Caravaggio Vol 1: The Palette & The Sword

By Milo Manara
Publisher: Dark Horse
ISBN: 9781506703398

Often the illustrator of other people’s stories, Milo Manara has brought his formidable talents to the page once again, but this time as the writer as well. The topic is one of the world’s greatest painters, Caravaggio, clearly a personal passion and inspiration for Manara and one he is certainly qualified to explore.

This first volume follows Caravaggio’s early years as he arrives in Rome to make a name for himself. I confess that I wasn’t aware that Caravaggio’s real name is Michelangelo, but it’s clear why he had to adopt the name of his home town. Manara has opted to portray him as a self-confident man, almost arrogant and dismissive in his dealings with others, although his heroism upon arriving in Rome secures him a circle of friends and, swiftly, a dangerous enemy. His art is quickly recognised for its striking representation and use of light, although the studio of Cavaliere D’Arpino which takes him on is not interested in him painting anything more than decorative garlands, a threat kept firmly in its place.

His hot-headedness coupled with an attraction to a prostitute, Anna, who quickly becomes his subject of many paintings, sets him at odds with her pimp who already despises Caravaggio. But as a muse Anna inspires Caravaggio to greater and greater works of art, although the church, who are commissioning the work, are uncomfortable with him using a harlot to model the madonna. He implores her to change, but her inability to do so pushes them apart, with tragic results.

Manara’s exquisite eye for detail helps drive the story forward, with fabulously painted backdrops of a dishevelled Rome long past its glory days to the varied populace that live there. There is much fiction intertwined in this telling, but that’s to be expected with so many years dividing then and now, and because Manara seeks to celebrate a man of passion then what better way to illustrate it than this.

It is very much a work full of energy and excitement, with Caravaggio’s paintings constantly peppering the narrative as backdrops to moments in time, either as they’re worked on or with the story flowing around them as models, events and circumstances given additional context to their content or creation. I’m not knowledgeable enough of Caravaggio’s work to judge if these are fair representations, but as an introduction to it, and as an encouragement to find out more, it’s the perfect blend.

And if you liked that: Dark Horse also produce the Manara Library, a rich and varied collection of Manara’s work.

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