Salome with the Head of John the Baptist
It was a chilly night, February 13th. Much colder than what is usual for Fayetteville Arkansas. Lucas J Knowles, a University of Arkansas graduate student, decided to take his research to the next level – to the level of real-life necromancy…
Throughout Lucas’ undergraduate experience at Florida State University, the same art history lessons were crammed into his brain – over and over. One prominent figure mentioned repeatedly was Michelangelo Caravaggio – a renown European figure whose reputation for violence was second only to his artistic prowess. Was Caravaggio a mistaken savant, whose personal life turned tragic – or was he really the lawless savage that contemporary books recall him to be? Was his hair really the luscious, windswept nest his portraits show? Surely it could not be of higher quality than Lucas’ loose and quaffed-but-not-too-quaffed silky “man-bun”. Lucas was hell-bent on bending the laws of Hell just to find out once and for all.
After several workshops on conjuring the dead through an independent study with UArk’s one-and-only Black Magick Master-Wizard Linda Lopez, Lucas found himself well enough equipped to make his own attempts to connect with the dead…
Lucas J Knowles, Amateur Necromancer: “As I sit in the center of this pentagram drawn with salt, I, Lucas J Knowles call upon my dark energy to demand that the gates of Hell break open and allow the passing of the spirit of Michelangelo Caravaggio!”
*Lucas pulls a rusty ceremonial blade from a leather pouch filled with various witching tools. The bag is marked playfully with a handwritten script: “L. Lopez”. He grasps the knife and, without any hesitation, saws a deep gash into his palm. As it bleeds profusely, Lucas squeezes and wrings out his sanguine ichor into a small brass bowl set in front of him.
Lucas: DEMONS OF THE UNDERWORLD, I OFFER THIS BLOOD OF THE LIVING FOR AN AUDIENCE WITH THE DEAD. HEAR MY INCANTATION AND ALLOW THIS RIFT TO OPEN.
*An undulating and twisting cloud of deep-purple explodes into existence, hovering a few feet above the floor. A violent shockwave blasts through Lucas’ small (but quaint and tastefully decorated) apartment. A deep, guttural voice roars from the freshly opened portal.
Disembodied Voice: “EGO ANTE TE BIBENDUM”
*The brass bowl containing Lucas’ blood drags clumsily across the floor and is pulled into the portal.
A short pause passes.
Disembodied Voice: “QUOD HOMO POTEST HABERE NOSTRI PUERUM”
*A blinding flash of light pulses from inside the rift. Out walks a human-shaped silhouette. The disheveled hair and confident gait is unmistakable. The entity’s image becomes clear – it is the ghost of the legendary Michelangelo Caravaggio… The portal closes, and a heavy hush settles on the room.
Lucas: Michelangelo, thank you for being here.
Caravaggio: Thank you for having me.
L: Before we get into any of the hard-hitting questions, I thought I’d start off by asking something easy just to break the ice… Can you talk a little bit about death, the afterlife, and any interesting things that you may have discovered regarding the purpose of existence or etc. while you’ve floated through the ether as a disembodied spirit?
C: The food in Hell – it is despicable. The drinks however, they are forever overflowing and ripe with flavor.
L: I see. Any advice for living, contemporary humans?
C: Live without order. Take what you want. Allow no man to sully your name – lest you boil their balls in oil.
L: Thank you for sharing that.
L: So, let’s get personal for a moment. You led a rather tumultuous life. You were well known for being an aggressive partier and fighter-
C: Do you want to know how I killed Ranuccio Tomassoni? He was a pitiful man. Ranuccio had the audacity to challenge me, Michelangelo Caravaggio. I cut off his genitals and let him bleed to death. Officials in Rome did not understand that he was weak and dispensable. I became wanted for murder.
L: Wow. No doubt living as a nomadic outlaw you were exposed to some interesting culture.
C: “Interesting” doesn’t even begin to describe the sexual adventures that I encountered throughout Europe. No woman – nor man – could deny the tantalizing body and utterly unmatched, beautiful hair of Rome’s championed painter.
L: Well, the hair part is debatable.
*Lucas pulls his fingers through his hair, pulling back his curly bangs before they bounce gently back into place.
C: I’m sorry?
L: – So, you’re a rather well-known artist who has a prolific portfolio of both secular work and religious work. Both have been massively influential to the art community. Do you mind sharing if you have a preference between the two? Perhaps you find one to be stronger?
C: The epitome of skilled painting is celebrated through the rendering of human flesh. Many wealthy patrons made requests for religious work – but if I was able to paint the human form I was satisfied.
L: Well, it’s apparent that rendering the figure was very important to you – considering that you’re historically one of the greatest masters of figural artistry.
C: One of the greatest? *scoffs*
L: Speaking of your big head – you’ve painted a lot of severed heads, haven’t you?
C: *Laughs* Yes, I have.
L: Is it difficult to render a human face lifeless without having a physical reference staged in front of you?
*Caravaggio lifts his head high in arrogance as he studies his fingernails.
C: I used real heads.
L: …So, what are some difficulties you’ve had to cope with while staging models and animals for your works?
C: My piece titled The Conversion of St. Paul, which featured horses, proved to be quite the challenge during staging.
L: I imagine it was difficult setting this up. Were any of your models trampled while you worked on this painting?
C: Many people died. Have you ever seen what happens to a man who has his abdomen crushed by the weight of a horse? It’s quite like the imagery that follows when one accidentally steps on a pig’s bladder holding Vermillion paint. A wonderful, explosive display of brilliant reds and-
L: *Cutting him off* TENEBRISM… You’re widely credited as the father of tenebrism – a style of dramatically rendered chiaroscuro that-
C: I know what tenebrism is.
L: … Yes. Well, what brought this style into your work? Why do you think dramatic lighting became such a foundational element to your paintings?
C: Your questions bore me, churlish plebeian.
*The ghost Caravaggio’s patience appears to be expiring. He grows restless.
*Lucas begins flipping through his notes desperately while chuckling nervously.
L: Ha ha. Okay. Um. Well. How about your predecessors? Your style was so influential that an entire movement was created based on your stylings. The “Caravaggisti”. This included people from all over Europe – some even became rather famous emulating your style. Van Honthorst, the Dutch follower of Utrecht, the Flemish legend Rubens, and many others grew rapidly in popularity while replicating your tenebrism. What are your thoughts on this development?
*Caravaggio’s brow furrows. His spirit trembles with passionate anger.
C: I am Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, MASTER artist, lover, and Rome’s champion. What fool would dare steal from ME?!
L: Well certainly these artists had tremendous skill of their own or else they wouldn’t have –
*The apparition begins to glow bright red as it oscillates and transforms into a non-human form. The room quakes. Books, plates, and assorted items begin crashing to the floor.
L: Look, Mikey… Do you mind if I call you Mikey? I’m sorry if I –
The spirit bursts with violent energy, a loud and piercing shriek is let out as it lunges towards Lucas. He darts for his bag of tools and fumbles with it before pulling out a tarnished, crudely shaped golden cross – Lucas launches into a standing position, raising the relic high above his head.
L: LORDS OF THE DARK AND LORDS OF THE LIGHT: I DEMAND YOU TO GRANT ME PROTECTION! PURIFY THIS SPACE AND BANISH THE ANGRY SOUL OF MICHELANGELO CARAVAGGIO BACK TO THE SHADOW REALM FROM WHENCE IT CAME! I NEED HIM NO MORE!
*The furious ghost breaks through Lucas’ seal of salt without losing momentum and continues its charge towards him. A claw-like shape quickly juts out from the strange form and winds back. Lucas, terrified and helpless, recoils and tries to guard himself. A blinding and deafening eruption breaks. An overwhelmingly bright-white portal cracks open and the spirit is violently whipped backwards. The newly opened rift creates a powerful cyclone and tangles the evil spirit in its grasp – like water circling a drain. It releases one last bone-shaking scream. Some of Lucas’ beautifully and artfully modified furniture begin to slide across the floor as they are also pulled into the rift. The roof caves in, the floor boards crack and shatter as they’re torn from the foundation. Lucas dives away from the rift and curls up in a fetal position. A blaring hum grows louder and louder as the same thunderous voice from before is heard one last time.
Disembodied Voice: TIBI GRATIAS AGO TIBI, QUIA SPECTANT ILLUM
*The rift grows brighter as the cacophony of destruction crescendos. The tempest fold in on itself over and over until it becomes a singularity and pops.
*An awkward calm and quiet settles into what’s left of Lucas room. He takes a moment to collect his wits before standing up and brushing himself off.
L: *Clearing his throat* Ahem… Well thank you so much for your time Mikey. It was a pleasure to speak with you.
Lucas J. Knowles is a second year MFA student at the University of Arkansas- Fayetteville. He received his BFA in Studio Art from Florida State University in Tallahassee.