Saturday, May 21, 2005


Yesterday, I joined the throngs of London and jostled my way down to the basement of the National Gallery's Sainsbury wing to view the Caravaggio exhibition. The 16 paintings on show had been created during the last four years of his life in exile after fleeing Rome, where he had killed a man in a duel in May 1606.

Most of the paintings are Biblical: David with the Head of Goliath, The Flagellation of Christ, a young St John the Baptist, the beheading of John the Baptist, the Raising of Lazarus, for example. Under Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio's brush, however, the religious subject matter is fabulously lusty, sexy, violent and even a little profane.

Many people have criticised the show for the crepuscular exhibition space, with its oxblood and slate-coloured walls and minimal lighting. But I found the darkness enhanced the passion, violence, drama and intensity of Caravaggio's work.

Of course, Caravaggio's major legacy was a whole new vocabulary of light: the radical contrast between shadow and light, framing each dramatic moment, that created a potency unparalleled in earlier art. And it is this luxurious interplay of light and dark that struck me most today.

The luxury continued when I went to Harrod's Urban Retreat spa to replenish my energy with an indulgent pedicure, involving all the trimmings plus a wonderful foot, ankle and calf massage with aromatherapy creams.

The spa was so noisy with the babble of voices and R&B, though, that any hope I had of being able to slip into a coma of relaxation as the therapist pampered me quickly slipped away. Therapists -- male and female -- gossiped about work and play, a wedding party of three chatted excitedly about the Big Day this weekend, and a besuited man still wearing his sunglasses took business calls on his mobile throughout his treatment. At one point his pedicurist bizarrely mentioned that men rarely have pedicures unless they are gay, to which the business man equally bizarrely spent 5 minutes reiterating he wasn't gay.

The pedicure was heaven though. I now have glossy red toenails and supersoft feet.

Afterwards, I was met in Harrod's food hall and we picked out a delicious selection for our dinner, including lemon almonds, corn nuts, the sweetest and most succulent mangoes I've ever had (costing -- gulp -- £12.49 for two -- which we only realised were so expensive as they were being rung up at the till), supersweet strawberries and some pastries.

Related links:

+ He lived badly, brutally. The Guardian sets out to see every known Caravaggio in existence and discovers a brawling, philandering gangster who created some of his greatest work on the run and wanted for murder.

+ Caravaggio in pictures

+ Caravaggio gallery

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