Here is a new story about Caravaggio and photography and my reply from a Librarians group.
At 07:05 PM 3/11/2009, you wrote:
Every few years another scholar comes out with a theory that some artist used photography or the close equivalent in his work. Some of the candidates to date, besides Caravaggio are Vermeer, Karel Fabritius [who is sometimes also Vermeer's teacher], and Leonardo. There always is some evidence. Both Karel Fabritius and Vermeer were affected by the contemporary Dutch craze for the perspective box, Fabritius even designed at least one. Leonardo certainly made drawings and diagrams which are suspicious. Caravaggio has no extant preparatory drawings, except those for a lost painting underneath one of his others. There are two major problems. If any of these men had such a secret, it died with him. How could Caravaggio have made such a major discovery, and none of his devoted following ever got a glimpse of it? For many years all over the European continent the Caravaggieschi either held sway, or competed for the prize. If there was some high road to it, would all of them have forfeited the chance and still worked it out by time honored, slow and thus conservative, pictorial techniques?
And, there is another problem. Miraculous as photography still looks to us, the generation of artists who had recourse to it in the 19th century, soon found that there were new problems using photography. The artist had to be very careful and wary of the perspectival distortions which could render the images incredible. For example in a series of paintings painted, not from life, but from photographs from life, Eakins produced a series of paintings full of these distortions. When drawing or painting from the model, though, he regularly eschewed them in favor of controlled spatial development.
A recent American painter, Leland Bell [he died in 1991] was very open to so much of the great tradition in art including the neoclassizing contemporaries of Caravaggio, Claude Lorrain and Poussin. He also adored the LeNain brothers who were influenced in some measure by Caravaggio. But for Caravaggio and his truest followers, Bell had the back of his hand. Even without photography, he felt that they gave too much of their concern to the appearance of light and shadow in perspective, and insufficient thought to those same shapes as forms in space. The attempt to imitate nature in all her details without also using the whole mind, refined taste, and connection of the artist through the art he had imbibed as well, doomed those artists to ignominious failure in his eyes.
No artistic technique by itself ever created greatness. Great apparent originality and the greatest apparent realism to date were not enough. Claude and Poussin were improbable masters. First of all they weren't Italian. There had never been a great French artist in terms which the Italians accepted. Both French artists studied with members of the school of Annibale Carracci, the Bolognese neo-classicists. Their way out of the ambiguities and extravagances of late mannerism was to go back to the more painterly and orderly forming of the Venetian high renaissance of Titian and Giorgone. Although Carracci was uneven, as were his brothers and their students, somehow their example settled into Claude and Poussin whose work was both consistently spatially logical and orderly, and who often aimed for the sense that these were arcadian groves, hills and lakes were where they spent their time, and wanted to be there even more. The sense of "et in Arcadia ego," was all over their work. Such work could not be corrupted by over realism, as among the Carravaggisti nor with spatial distortion and peculiarity, as in the mannerists.
They and other classicising French painters brought the Venetian renaissance to France, where it has stayed ever since. In the last century we called it "School of Paris."
My final point is that it really doesn't matter much whether Caravaggio used photos or not. It was the Bolognese, who had no tricks at all, who formed the future of European painting by reviving and continuing with the Venetians, who painted with wonderful passages which strayed through the forms, and fulfilled their space.