Fans of art history worldwide will recognise Andrew from his superb documentaries, spanning many eras and continents. He has also written some wonderful books on art and presents regularly on BBC2's The Culture Show. For more information on Andrew's appearances in, print, public, TV and cyberspace, please visit his site.
In 2002, Andrew's documentary Who Killed Caravaggio? was first aired. Apart from being a unique glimpse at the tumultuous life of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio through archival records and contemporary biographers such as Giovanni Baglione, it was also a precursor to this book.
Released in July 2010, Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane is a Caravaggio biography like no other. Many are the examples of indulgent writers speculating on the man Caravaggio's work suggests he may have been. This is what separates this title from the others - this is a biography constructed upon many hours of archival research, from criminal proceedings to contemporary biographies - Andrew Graham-Dixon's amazing work uncovers the realities of Caravaggio's era which no biographer before it has dared pursue in such meticulous detail.
If you are excited by historical evidence, cleverly mixed in alongside some sensible discussion of the allegory and aesthetics of Caravaggio's work - you will find this book to be a thoroughly rewarding experience.
3PP: You relate the creation of this title as a project spanning a decade. What was the original impetus to contribute a new volume to the existing canon on this artist?
AGD: The original impetus came from the experience of making a documentary about the artist's life, for BBC television. In the course of working on that film I came to realise that so many exciting and interesting new discoveries had been made in recent years that a new life of the artist could and should now be written, painting a much truer picture of the man and his world than had previously been possible.
3PP: The title of your new book - A Life Sacred and Profane - derives from Cardinal Ottavio Paravicino's description of Caravaggio's Boy with a Basket of Fruit - you also use this phrase to describe the Courtesan Fillide Melandroni. Was this personal struggle between a secular and spiritual existence felt as keenly in the 16th Century as it is now?
AGD: I think the struggle was experienced in a different way, but it was certainly felt as keenly - I suspect more keenly.
3PP: Dr. Catherine Puglisi uses the term Caravaggio-mania in describing the public and media attention so intensely focused on this artist. 2010 has seen Leonardo and Michelangelo take a back seat to the wayward Maestro Merisi. Your 2002 film Who Killed Caravaggio? seems to pre-empt this rise public interest. Did you see it coming?
AGD: Caravaggio is an old master well suited to the modern fascination for badly behaved celebrities, but I hope anyone reading my book will begin to see the real and terrible poignancy of the life that he actually led as distinct from the many legends and clichés that have proliferated about him.
3PP: Caravaggio's images are very cinematic in nature. You heavily quote Scorsese on Caravaggio's impact on his work. Does our familiarity with this type of graphic presentation explain Caravaggio's easier appeal to modern audiences?
AGD: Quite possibly, although it could be argued that Caravaggio did not merely anticipate elements of modern cinema, he actually played a part in inventing the very language of modern cinematography. Think of Pasolini, for example, his directness, his often brutal use of light and dark.
One of the more obvious instances of Scorsese channelling Caravaggio in Taxi Driver
3PP: You mention Venetian master Tintoretto as a probable influence. The dynamism and theatricality of a work like Tintoretto's 1548 Miracle of The Slave seems to echo in Caravaggio's The Martyrdom of St Matthew some 50 years later. Do you think artists like Tintoretto reveal Caravaggio's style as a natural progression, rather than something unprecedented and baffling as some authors have related?
AGD: Yes, but nonetheless Caravaggio's originality was extreme. There is painting before him and painting after him, as Robert Hughes once said - and they are not the same thing. He changed art forever.
Shadow and light, dramatic movement: elements of this Tintoretto painting would not look out of place with Caravaggio's name under them. To use a cinematographic term, Caravaggio is like Tintoretto in close zoom and deep focus.
3PP: In your writing, historical and scientific evidence is given equal weighting alongside descriptions of style, aesthetics and allegory. Is consideration of evidence and historical context part of how you contemplate art personally?
AGD: Yes. Unless you try to understand the world in which an artist moved, felt, lived, how can you hope to understand the images that he created?
3PP: The work of Maurizio Seracini, Martin Kemp, Pascal Cotte and others has brought science and the humanities crashing together. Is there a gulf between connoisseurship and science in approaching attributions?
AGD: No I don't think so. You can X-Ray a painting or use infrared to detect an underdrawing, but you still need the skills of the connoisseur to evaluate the evidence that you find. Rembrandt's underpainting is very distinctive, for example, very rapid and confident, but unless you know that you won't be able to make much sense of looking at an x-ray of a work that might or might not be by him.
Caravaggio and Rembrandt are commonly compared. In this fabulous clip from The Culture Show, AGD explores these two artists in detail.
3PP: Do you see the formal introduction of these scientific methods as prerequisite to art history education in the modern era?
AGD: No. Not everyone studies art history to be a connoisseur or conservator.
3PP: I am about to visit Florence for the first time - and very much look forward to my first encounter with a Botticelli! Can you recount a memorable first time beholding a great artwork?
AGD: I always remember seeing a wonderful fresco by Pietro Perugino, in a tiny little chapel somewhere in some back street of Florence. It was raining outside, but there was so much light and sky in the painting walking into the church was like walking into summer. Magical.
3PP: In your film, Medici - Makers of Modern Art - you attended the parade commemorating Savonarola. Your comments to Dominican Friar Padre Tommasso echoed the horror all art lovers feel when we consider the works that may have been destroyed in the Bonfire of The Vanities. Was this a difficult experience for you?
AGD: It was a moving experience, but not especially "difficult".
3PP: You describe extensive use of John T. Spike's Caravaggio CD-ROM resource in your researches - are there any plans to publish your work in a digital format such as a Kindle edition or audio book?
AGD: Not at the moment, no.
3PP would like to thank Andrew Graham-Dixon and his wonderful staff for their time and effort, particularly as Andrew was busy filming during the time time my request was initially made. If you enjoyed this interview, I also recommend you listen to Andrew discussing Caravaggio on this BBC Radio 3 webcast. No longer available on the BBC site, this is one of the few places you can hear it!
As a final demonstration of just how informative and enjoyable Andrew's work is, please watch this amazing clip from The Culture Show - a skillful one-take description of the Citizens and Kings exhibition at the Royal Academy of The Arts in 2007.