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111 of 114 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The life of a troubled artist revealed
I have always enjoyed reading Andrew Graham-Dixon's books, as well as watching his many TV series on different subjects or themes. Knowing very little about Caravaggio I looked forward with some anticipation to this book. And I'm pleased to say reading it has been a richly rewarding experience. I read in an article earlier this year that the author had been working on...
Published on 1 July 2010 by D. P. Mankin

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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Ok, but somewhat disappointing.
Being a huge fan of Caravaggio, I was quite excited to see this new book, and ordered it.

I quite enjoyed the first part, the background to Caravaggio's life and the political/cultural/religious atmosphere of Milan.

However, as I progressed I found that -in my opinion- the author makes far too many guesses on motivation and interpretation than are...
Published on 4 Oct 2010 by casinitaly


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5.0 out of 5 stars A thoroughly entertaining read and a profound learning experience, 23 Aug 2012
By 
W. Johnson - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane (Paperback)
Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane was 10 years in the making, and it shows, for Andrew Graham-Dixon has in the end written an impressively learned and vivid monograph, which will surely now be regarded as the definitive Caravaggio biography.

Those who only know Andrew via his energetic, populist TV persona, may not be aware of just what a talented art historian and fine prose writer he is. However, pick up the book and it is soon apparent that you are in the hands of an expert who has wrestled long and hard with this most elusive and misunderstood of subjects. Andrew's analysis and discussion of a huge range of both primary and secondary source material, his careful consideration of the religious and social factors that helped mould Carvaggio into the enigma that he became, as well as his obvious knowledge of art-making techniques, deserves particular praise, and whatever one has to say about the book, no one will deny that Andrew has not done his homework.

Despite the many, many hours of archival work that has clearly gone into this book, this is no dry academic tome. In fact, A Life Sacred and Profane is that rare breed of art monographs - a thoroughly entertaining read and a profound learning experience. Andrew deftly and delicately weaves together history, academic discussion, formal analysis of the artworks, and story-telling in such a way that the book never strays into dullness or indulgent art-speak. I for one particularly admire the way Andrew uses language to evoke his subjects; he knows how to plant a good adjective, conjure up the right metaphor, raise interesting and thought-provoking comparisons, and generally write clearly without waffling. If there is one disappointment I have about the book, it is that Andrew's discussion of the paintings sometimes seemed to me somehow more restrained - less flighty, less poetical, less dynamic - than in previous writings. Perhaps he felt he had to reign himself in a bit to please the serious critics? This is not to say at all that the book is ever tedious, just that it does not have the snap, crackle, and pop that is evident in some of his other works. I'm willing to admit this is an entirely personal, niggling and eccentric beef, however.

While mountains of rubbish has been written on Caravaggio by people who really should have known better, Andrew does a fine job of getting rid of the dross and dispelling popular myth in order to get at the very heart of this most marvellous and mysterious of painters, whose life and works Andrew Graham-Dixon will leave you thinking about long after you put the book down. This is easily a five-star book.

Note to those considering the Kindle edition: it is easily navigable with a good contents page and contains no spelling mistakes or formatting issues. One obviously misses the absence of good-quality colour prints of the works that Andrew discusses, but Google Art Project is never far way for ultra high resolution scans. All in all, the Kindle edition is fine.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An Obvious First Choice, 27 Dec 2011
By 
Eugene Onegin (Lincoln England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane (Paperback)
It is not very often that a serious piece of art historical writing rooted in the archives also manages to be be both readable and exciting. That is why it is such a pleasure to be able to fulsomely recommend this book to the layman and specialist alike. Andrew Graham Dixon has taken his stimulating but informed style so well deployed on television and used it to great effect in discussing the life and work of an artist as theatrical in deed as on canvas. The painting themselves are analysed with erudition mixed with a light touch making you want to look again at them not only as illustrations, but also in situ. However, where this book really scores is in Graham Dixon's masterly grasp of the historical context of Caravaggio's creativity-his argument about the great importance of St Charles Borromeo's Milanese 'pauperist' theology on the artist's preoccupation with the depiction of the poor in religious works is very convincing as is the role he assigns to the folk sculpture of the Sacro Monte in Vacello in shaping the supreme physicality of Caravaggio's paintings. Even more significant to the success of this book is how the latest archival discoveries from the legal archives of Rome and Malta have yielded crucial new insights into the exact circumstances which prompted Caravaggio to commit murder in 1606 and later to be expelled from the Knights of Malta. Consequently this is a biography which inspires confidence and is as grounded in fact as any we are likely to get. There is one caveat to this symphony of praise and that is the illustrations: they are too small and too dark and anyone wanting to get the most from Graham Dixon's commentaries will need a second book with higher quality reproductions. Nonetheless, this volume will be essential reading for all admirers of the artist and art historians more widely. However, for those who have never read a book about Caravaggio and lovers of high quality non-fiction in general then this comes very strongly recommended.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Informative and very poignant, 1 Nov 2011
This review is from: Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane (Paperback)
I have only ever seen two Caravaggio paintings in my life 'in the flesh' as it were - Bacchus, in the Uffizi in Florence, and 'The Beheading of John the Baptist' in the co-cathedral in Malta. I told myself then that I must make an effort to see more, and find out more about the artist, whom I knew had led a somewhat 'wild' life, so I made an effort to find this book after seeing it was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction. I was not disappointed and found myself completely immersed in the life and times of this wayward character who was saved from ruin time and time again by his god-given talent to portray the world around him and depict religious scenes in a way never seen before. Graham-Dixon's comment that Caravaggio's paintings are 'like looking at the world through flashes of lightning' is so apt. I do agree with another reviewer that the pictures in the book are almost impossible to decipher and I found myself reaching for my laptop time and again to see the detail. However, this did not detract from the text and I found the life-story of this man who was so talented, yet almost hell-bent on his own destruction both fascintating and tragic. Almost like a novel, other characters punctuate the story, particularly Caravaggio's assistant Cecco who appears in several of the masterpieces, and Fillide, the whore whom Caravaggio used to portray Saint Catherine and Mary Magdalene, in defiance of the conventions of the time. I note that some reviewers are less than complimentary about Graham-Dixon's biography. Well, my response to that is, I am now planning a trip to Rome to see as many of the artist's works as I can, and if the author's intention was to ignite in his readers a passion for this enigmatic artist and his works, he certainly has succeeded.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars incisive writing - fusty design.., 6 Oct 2012
Caravaggio (hardback)
Andrew Graham-Dixon

incisive writing - poor presentation :3 stars

as a fan of Graham-Dixon's infectious, approachable yet scholarly tv specials on great artists over the years, i was looking forward to his book here on the undeniable master of dramatic baroque painting - namely , Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. what i found was a rather underwhelmingly presented undersized hardback book (some 9 x 6"only) presenting a well chosen if modest selection of some of Caravaggio's best works, in small if very good quality illustrations . Similarly the printed text is somewhat archaic , faint + hard to read. i'm only 46 so my eyes shouldn't be failing just yet. this book feels like it was produced in the 1950's such is its fusty layout etc.

Graham-Dixon's actual insights + writing style is beyond reproach however with his usual clarity + insight on this infamous bad boy of western art. an aside - quite why Tim Marlow omitted Caravaggio in his early 90's great masters series for channel 5 is beyond me but i digress..

a curious book - that despite the excellent writing of Graham-Dixon is let down badly by its diminutive size,small limited number of illustrations and fusty overall presentation. it's also significantly more expensive as hardback, than worthwhile alternative by Taschen + Phaidon. contemporary art publishers such as Thames and Hudson,Taschen etc produce far better books than this, albeit sans mr.graham-dixon. therefore,this book feels like a missed opportunity - a shame. 3 stars going on 4. i would recommend John Gash's v good reprinted 2003 hardcover on chaucer press as a more viable alternative, or Helen Langdon's similarly attractive laid out hardback from 1998 on chatto and windus (uk).
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good source of information on paintings by Caravaggio, 20 Aug 2010
By 
Marcia (Sydney, Australia) - See all my reviews
It is a good source of information on all the paintings attributed to Caravaggio. The analysis of these paintings is very detailed and have many interesting bits.

But I must say I find the author's style jarring. I think I was expecting something more like Charles Nicoll's biography of Leonardo da Vinci. But no. I found Graham-Dixon dogmatic with the tendency to ramble.

As a piece writing I disliked it; but I have also learnt a lot about Caravaggio's paintings from it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Review for Caravaggio A Life Sacred and Profane, 22 July 2014
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This review is from: Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane (Paperback)
A Great book originally recommended by Lawrence Lewllyn-Bowen.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Caravaggio: A Life Sacred & Profane, 29 July 2011
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Superb - can see why Andrew Graham-Dixon took 10 years to write it - the depth of background information from associates of Caravaggio to political climate etc. is staggering - my eternal thanks to Mr. Graham-Dixon for turning a novice art lover to a trainee disciple -
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane, 27 July 2011
By 
John Harvey "harpic04" (Nerja, (Malaga), Spain) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane (Paperback)
Andrew Dixon at his very best. It is erudite, but easy to read and understand- a rarity with scholarly pieces !
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book to immerse oneself in with real pleasure., 16 July 2011
By 
Mr. Geoffrey H. Fellows "Geoff Fellows" (Northampton, UK) - See all my reviews
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Very lay and unscholarly review....

Have always been interested in Caravaggio and his work and life, so when I saw that AGD was speaking about him (and promoting his book, of course) at Oxford in June I went along. So did about 300 other people! Excellent and entertaining talk, and the book is equally so in my view.

I always enjoy reading the analysis of the content of particular pictures and the messages which each contains, and I also enjoy any writing which puts a picture into the context of its time, so that I am informed what viewers at the time it was painted would have understood the image to mean.

AGD does all of this - and very well indeed. Thoroughly enjoyable, even is one is not an art historian/art graduate etc...
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Caravaggio, 10 Aug 2010
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Very prompt delivery - at a great price - of an excellent book from an authoritative author who makes it a fascinating artists life an easy and enjoyable read
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Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane
Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane by Andrew Graham-Dixon (Paperback - 22 Jun 2011)
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