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Caravaggio's Madonna of the Rosary as a Sacred Commodity

Thu, March 22, 11:00am to 12:30pm, Hilton Riverside, 3rd Level - Commerce Room

Abstract

This paper examines the “object biography” of Caravaggio’s Madonna of the Rosary, painted in Rome c.1601 and travelling to Naples, then Amsterdam (via Aix-en-Provence) before being purchased by Rubens and a consortium of Antwerp liefhebbers ‘for not more than 1800 guldens’ and installed in the Dominican Church by 1620. As a “sacred possession”, the Rosary Madonna enjoyed a rich “social life” facilitated by pan-European artist networks. As an ‘independent being endowed with life’ to paraphrase Marx, the circulation of this luxury commodity precipitated cultural transfer. Simultaneously, its own exchange-value skyrocketed to as high as 14,000 gulden before 1630. This paper resists what Didi-Hubermann characterises as the ‘sovereignty of anachronism’ by emphasising not the artwork’s genesis, but its “afterlife” as a ‘polychronistic’ nexus of value-making constantly in flux, the Rosary Madonna’s “Fetishism” as ‘outstandingly great art’ encouraged by van Mander’s 1604 biography and Rubens’ longstanding cultivation of Caravaggio’s “brand equity”.

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