STEAL FROM THE BEST: Caravaggio

“How  you  doin’?“

“How you doin’?“

There is one aspect of STEAL FROM THE BEST with which we’re all familiar, and that is adaptation: plays into movies, movies into musicals, musicals into movies, books into movies/plays/musicals. It’s not technically what Lichtenbergianism means by STEAL FROM THE BEST, but it’s at least parallel/adjacent to the Precept.

We are very familiar with STEAL FROM THE BEST in the visual arts, as well. (See pp. 90, 92 in the book.) Less often, we see an actual adaptation from paintings into another art form. The three examples that spring to mind are Tracy Chevalier’s The Girl in the Pearl Earring, from Vermeer’s painting; Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George, from Seurat’s masterpiece, Sunday Afternoon on Le Grand Jatte; and Moussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, from Viktor Hartmann’s drawings.

(A very minor addition to this genre is my own “Horsefly Rag,” from Moholoy-Nagy’s “Diary of a Fly.”)

So this post from Open Culture is especially interesting: an Italian theatre company — Malatheatre — recreates nearly two dozen of Caravaggio’s dramatically lit tableaux using only drapery and their (finely toned) bodies. The interplay between their physicality and Caravaggio’s notorious sensuality is illuminating — this past September I was so taken by the frankness of his paintings in the Uffizi Gallery that I forgot to take a single photo.

Malatheatre’s resulting theatre piece throws me back to one of my undergrad directing classes, where one of the key terms drilled into our heads was picturization: creating a stage picture in order to draw focus and create meaning for the audience. We were encouraged to study the Old Masters for hints on how to do it. Caravaggio was more master than most.

So if you’re casting about for inspiration, either for a work-in-progress or a new piece, head over to your favorite museum’s website and start looking. You’re in good company.