Across the Buildings of Italy, Contemporary Street Artist Redefines Classical Art

Posted by Hannah Marks on

Two types of art that lie on exact opposite ends of the stylistic spectrum converge in the works of Andrea Ravo Mattoni. Ravo is an Italian artist who possesses the creative mind required of one to excel- and even harder, stand out- in the increasingly saturated street art world. Yet Ravo also possesses incomprehensible technical skill, the type which would have landed artists of centuries past unanimous praise. One or the other would surely grant Ravo success; instead, he combines contemporary edge with Old Master draughtsmanship to create monumental outdoor replicas of one of history’s most celebrated artists: Caravaggio.

To fully grasp the genius of Ravo’s work, one must understand the artist whom he so admires. Caravaggio was a 17th century Italian artist who helped usher in, and ultimately came to define, the style of art we call the Baroque. Baroque art was typified by its dramatic, stormy style and often gory subjects theatrically executed with technical precision. The base ingredients of the Baroque were perfectly suited to Caravaggio, whose personal life was as turbulent and violent as the art he depicted. While we now deem him a canonical Old Master artist, Caravaggio in his own day represented the height of progressive attitudes, with regards to both social and artistic norms. During his early career, artists were still experiencing the remnants of the late High Renaissance, a style exemplified by artists like Annibale Carracci, wherein idealized, handsome youths occupy perfectly composed, mild-mannered Biblical scenes. Caravaggio, meanwhile, hand picked his models from the streets and brothels of Rome, and depicted them “warts and all,” with dirty fingernails, jaundiced pallor, and intense psychological realism taking the place of perfectly proportioned, unblemished physiques, and Hellish beheadings taking precedence over Paradise.

Street art is by its very nature grittier and edgier than traditional art, and therein lies a superficial association between the modern graffiti artist and the Baroque painter. Yet there is a true sense of shared ideals between the two, heightened only further by the kinship one can imagine Ravo feels between his fellow Italian artist. Just as Caravaggio deviated significantly from the style of his artistic contemporaries, so too does Ravo; in an era where artists often strive to outdo each other in representing the epitome of current trends, which often tend towards the outlandish (think: Jeff Koons balloon sculptures or Damien Hirst’s formaldehyde shark), perhaps the most daring maneuver is to look backwards stylistically by replicating an Old Master in an entirely new medium. Critically and commercially, Old Masters are more or less overlooked, with modern and contemporary consumers favoring those sectors; one reason is because modern sensibilities have a hard time connecting with dated, seemingly stale historical and biblical scenes. Ravo’s work attempts to reconcile this discord between current taste and historical artistic worth and craftsmanship. In doing so, he not only sheds light on one of history’s most acclaimed artists, but also reinterprets his work in a way that is at once entirely different from Caravaggio’s, but so perfectly suited to the Old Master himself. If Caravaggio lived today, there is no doubt that he would be a street artist.

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