If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Caravaggio, Narcissus at the Source


Video transcript

(lighthearted music) Female Voiceover: We're in the Palazzo Barbarini, looking at beautiful painting by Caravaggio of Narcissus. Male Voiceover: Narcissus at the Source is their title. Female Voiceover: This is a story from Ovid of a boy who falls in love with his own reflection in the water, so much so that he falls in and drowns. Male Voiceover: Of course, the flower is named after him, as is the word narcissism. Female Voiceover: That's right (laughs), in a Christian context. Male Voiceover: A morality tale. Yeah, a caution. Female Voiceover: About what's important, and what's not important. Male Voiceover: But it's an extraordinarily interesting subject for a painter. Female Voiceover: That's true. It's especially interesting because you get the reality of the figure, and then the reflection. Of course, paintings themselves are kinds of mirrors, or reflections, in a way. Male Voiceover: They certainly are, and the idea of the artist's responsibility in terms of depiction, in terms of creating a faithfulness, and the dangers that are inherent in that. It's interesting if you look at this painting that the reflection, in the sense, the painting within the painting is a dimmer image. Female Voiceover: Much dimmer. It's really only the highlights that come forward. Female Voiceover: That's true. Male Voiceover: The painting is also incredibly abstract. The surface of the water, or the edge of the water is almost dividing the canvas exactly in half, not quite, but close, creating this continuity between the hands that are touching and the arms. Female Voiceover: A kind of circular form inscribed within that rectangle of the canvas. Male Voiceover: But it seems to me, yeah absolutely, to be a kind of metaphor, or a kind of meditation, Female Voiceover: On painting. on painting, and its goals, and it's dangerous. Female Voiceover: [unintelligible] As the painter had to think about how he was painting the so-called reality, real figure, versus the so-called reflection of the real figure; and painting, itself, is a reflection. So, the other thing that interests me is the foreshortening, the way it's so close to us, thus the way that the figure himself leans out towards us with a kind of longing, all of those very Baroque elements of really moving into the space of the viewer are here; and that tenebroso, that dark background, that really makes us focus on the figure that fills the shape of the canvas. Male Voiceover: I think what's really vivid is the knee. Female Voiceover: Is the knee. Male Voiceover: And also, the short sleeve. Female Voiceover: He often draws our attention not to the thing that you'd think he should draw our attention to, the back of a horse. It's that interest in realism, where in reality, the thing that you might look at, or the thing that light falls on in not necessarily the most important thing in the room. Male Voiceover: I want to look at his left hand on the right side of the canvas. Let's take a close look, because what seems to be happening is his right hand, on the left side, seems to be firmly planted on the ground. He seems to be so absent-minded, so taken with his own image, that he seems not to realize that he's about to support himself where he can't on the water. Female Voiceover: It looks like he's about to fall in. Male Voiceover: So, this might be that moment. Female Voiceover: Right, it's almost like he's reaching out to embrace himself; he's fallen in love with himself, literally. Male Voiceover: But he'll embrace only his reflection, which is, of course, intangible. (lighthearted music)