Monday, April 15, 2024

TMA Exhibits Rare, Historic Paintings in ‘The Brilliance of Caravaggio’

Paintings have a gripping ability to tell a story. Through brushstrokes, viewers can often visit far away places, understand the deep emotions of the painting’s subject and watch a whole scene unfold, without any movement. 

Inspired by wit, mischief and beauty through story-filled paintings, Italian artist Caravaggio found a way to communicate those circumstances through his works. The Toledo Museum of Art presents the rare opportunity to view original paintings of the 16th century artist’s work in its latest exhibit: “The Brilliance of Caravaggio: Four Paintings in Focus.”

Caravaggio’s creations

The TMA received four Caravaggio paintings on loan from the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the Detroit Institute of Arts in Detroit. The four paintings include “The Cardsharps” (1595), “Saint Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy” (1595-96), “The Musicians” (1597) and “Martha and Mary Magdalene” (1598).  This is the first time four Caravaggio pieces have been brought together anywhere in the US for the past 11 years..

“The purpose of this show was plain and simple, and I’m not ashamed to acknowledge it,” TMA Curator Lawrence W. Nichols explains, adding,  “We have brought new scholarship to these four paintings, but the goal of this show is to bring Caravaggio to a Toledo, regional and national audience, here, (within) our walls.”

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“The Cardsharps,” perhaps the most well known work on display, is a piece depicting deceit from players engaged in a game of primero (poker’s predecessor).  “The Musicians” and “Martha and Mary Magdalene” portray two natural looking scenes: a group of musicians and two women together, respectively, with great detail and and a story behind each painting. The “Saint Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy” piece takes a different approach. Caravaggio’s first religious painting, depicting the saint receiving signs of the wounds left in Christ’s body from the crucifixion. An angel appears to offer the saint comfort in this nighttime, spiritual piece. 

All of the oil on canvas pieces are displayed with additional information about the artist’s process and the background story on plaques next to the works. Nichols relates the artist’s motivation for all of the pieces. “He said, ‘I don’t need classical antiquity. I’m going to paint what I see and feel from the Roman streets,’” Nichols explained.

Connecting with TMA’s collection

The TMA has included pieces in the exhibit, from its own collection, featuring Italian, French, Dutch and Spanish artists, inspired by Caravaggio’s work. To further enhance the exhibition, the TMA is hosting programs surrounding Caravaggio featuring speakers, music and a conversation with the TMA Director Adam Levine. There are also videos and a guided headset tour for those interested in learning more.

“The Brilliance of Caravaggio: Four Paintings in Focus” Toledo Museum of Art, 2445 Monroe St., through April 14, 2024. Buy tickets in person or online at

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