Caravaggio - NarcissusOil on canvas, 1594-1596, 110 × 92 cm, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica in Rome



Description and interpretation of the famous painting 'Narcissus' by Caravaggio!

Caravaggio - Narcissus

The beautiful narcissus is prophesied shortly after his birth that he would only live long if he "did not recognize" himself. A blatant contradiction to the other ideology of that time, for it was not for nothing that "Know yourself" stood above the oracle of Delphi. The young man, who rejected and spurned all his admirers, was punished: when he saw his reflection in the water one day, he fell in love and consumed himself so much that no body passed away. Not without the oracle coming true. Shortly before, Narcissus says: "Oh, that's me!

Typically Caravaggio, the painting captivates with strong contrasts of light and dark, which reinforces the intimacy of the scene, making it seem almost competent and meditative. The brightly lit knee meets us abruptly. Narcissus doesn't care. He looks at his reflection with devotion. Caravaggio grants him almost half of the pictorial space. The surface shimmers like water, but this lake here is so quiet that it looks almost like a mirror, which makes an eel-smooth image possible. Yet this is a little more faded. The reflection of narcissus was a welcome subject for painters to demonstrate their skills. 

Only the hands give us an indication that a liquid is actually meant, because while the right one is still on the mainland, the left one is already immersed. Perhaps Caravaggio is not referring here to the version in Ovid's Metamorphoses, but to another tradition according to which Narcissus fell into the lake and drowned there. Does this narcissus lose his balance in a moment? Does he want to bend forward and give his likeness a kiss? 

Another interesting aspect is the nesting of reality. Because who says we see narcissus here? We are much more likely to see the image of a model who stood for Narcissus in Caravaggio's studio. Thus even this narcissus is only an image of reality and the equal mirror image is an image of this image. It's a good thing it doesn't have a mirror in its hand, otherwise we'd still be sitting here tomorrow! 

© the artinspector / alexandra tuschka