Caravaggio (1571-1610) plainly belongs to that small group of artists popularly regarded as the greatest, but he has joined more recently than his contemporaries Rembrandt and Velázquez. By “popularly” I mean in circles wide enough to encompass the casual museum-goer. As anecdotal evidence of his current status I offer the man in the National Gallery in Washington who asked a guard whether the museum had any Caravaggios, and his look of incredulous grievance when the guard shrugged his shoulders and politely referred him to the information desk. When visitors ask, as they nearly always do, “Where are the French Impressionists?,” the guards can tell them; Caravaggio has not yet climbed to that stage. (The answer to the man’s question is No, the National Gallery has no Caravaggios. One can normally see a single Caravaggio at the Metropolitan in New York and in some other cities’ major museums, but one needs to...


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