26 FEBRUARY 2005, Page 32

(1571–1610), called M ichelangelo Merisi Caravaggio after his place of birth,

has become something of a mythical figure in the half-century or so since his reputation was rescued from obscurity. Today he is celebrated as the great precursor of realism, the archetypal bohemian artist, and the prototype genius who behaved badly and died young. Caravaggio is hot property, and a full-scale retrospective of his work would be a certain crowd-puller, a blockbuster to cap all blockbusters. (Caravaggio scores on so many counts: proto-Marxist, rebel, homosexual icon, avant-garde hero — a PR dream.) But 20 years ago it was already proving difficult to get the loans to make up a proper survey of his career, and the situation has steadily worsened since then, with museums simply refusing to lend. In such a context, a smaller, more focused exhibition suggests itself, and this is what has been produced by the Capodimonte Museum in Naples in collaboration with the National Gallery. It is a glorious success.