Living Paintings: 13 Caravaggio Works of Art Performed by Real-Life Actors

Michelan­ge­lo Merisi da Car­avag­gio, the father of Baroque paint­ing, shocked the upper class aes­thetes of his day by draft­ing pros­ti­tutes and pro­le­tari­ats as mod­els for his pri­mar­i­ly Bib­li­cal sub­jects.

Ten years ago, under the direc­tion of founder Ludovi­ca Ram­bel­li, eight mem­bers of the Ital­ian com­pa­ny, Malathe­atre, dis­cov­ered first hand the insane­ly rig­or­ous pos­es Car­avag­gio demand­ed of his mod­els, cre­at­ing 23 tableaux vivants inspired by the master’s oeu­vre.

The com­pa­ny sought less to repro­duce the paint­ings than the scene Car­avag­gio would have gazed on from behind his easel.

The 13 stag­ings in the video above make one aware of the intense phys­i­cal­i­ty evi­dent in Caravaggio’s work.

All those extend­ed arms and inver­sions are agony for a mod­el. After 30 sec­onds or so, even a sharply inclined neck or bent back can serve up a small taste of what it’s like to be cru­ci­fied.

The result is exquis­ite. The eight play­ers are not just extra­or­di­nar­i­ly fit spec­i­mens, they have clear­ly devot­ed much thought to the emo­tion­al life of each char­ac­ter they embody, sus­tain­ing the moment with great focus and deter­mi­na­tion.

The action unfolds in the suit­ably ancient set­ting of Naples’ Church of San­ta Maria Donnaregi­na Nuo­va.

When not called upon to mod­el, the per­form­ers become stage hands, help­ing each oth­er to arrange the sim­ple, well cho­sen props and flow­ing man­tles.

(I enjoyed the small joke of a female Bac­chus.)

Per­formed live to selec­tions from Mozart, Bach, and Vival­di, this com­pa­ny has set­tled on the Lux Aeter­na sec­tion of Mozart’s Requiem to accom­pa­ny their archival footage.

The next oppor­tu­ni­ty to see the show per­formed live will be in Naples on Decem­ber 28.

Have a look at the video below, for some com­par­isons between the orig­i­nal paint­ings and the 13 tableaux vivants seen in the video:

The Entomb­ment of Christ

Mary Mag­da­lene in Ecsta­sy,

Cru­ci­fix­ion of Saint Peter

The Behead­ing of St John the Bap­tist

Judith Behead­ing Holofernes

Fla­gel­la­tion of Christ

The Mar­tyr­dom of Saint Matthew


Rest on the Flight into Egypt


The Rais­ing of Lazarus

Saint Fran­cis of Assisi in Ecsta­sy


via This Kids Should See This

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Flash­mob Recre­ates Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” in a Dutch Shop­ping Mall

Bat­man & Oth­er Super Friends Sit for 17th Cen­tu­ry Flem­ish Style Por­traits

Why Babies in Medieval Paint­ings Look Like Mid­dle-Aged Men: An Inves­tiga­tive Video

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is a for­mer artist’s mod­el turned author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Mon­day, Novem­ber 12 for anoth­er month­ly install­ment of her book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.


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