Caravaggio at the Scuderie del Quirinale – Closing soon with weekend all-night visits!

I live only a short walk from the entrance to the Vatican museums so I am fairly used to seeing an endless queue of tourists snaking its way along the length of the Vatican Walls. I have been genuinely surprised and somewhat daunted, however, by the very similar queues to visit the Scuderie del Quirinale's Caravaggio exhibition over the last few months – so much so that I kept putting off going until the final week, thinking, mistakenly, that there would be some kind of lull! Originally conceived to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the artist's death on 18 July 1610, this exhibition would seem to reconfirm the lasting position of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio as one of art history's true superstars, with nothing short of Caravaggio-mania surrounding this show. Luckily, I have a membership card for the gallery (I would highly recommend getting one) which meant that I could skip the line, but not the crowds of gallery-goers once inside. Situated in the former stables of the Quirinal Palace, this exhibition space usually feels spacious and given its length, visitors are able to admire large works from a great distance – sadly not on this occasion where the rooms were absolutely packed.

Caravaggio actually produced a relatively small number of works in his short life and with the curators' strict criteria of exhibiting only those works which have been historically ascertained to be by his own hand, this is a necessarily small show focusing on 24 masterpieces, starting with the exquisite early Basket of Fruit from the Ambrosian Library in Milan and moving through his career more or less chronologically. The Crowning with Thorns and the Deposition from the Cross actually caused bottleneck traffic jams as visitors stared transfixed; I was particularly mesmerized by The Taking of Christ, albeit momentarily before being jostled along to next room. Unfortunately, not all of the works were scheduled to be at the Scuderie for the entire duration of the exhibition so I was disappointed to have missed the Uffizi Bacchus. The presence of the stunning Flagellation of Christ, a later temporary addition to the show, more than made up for the other missing works, however. Living in Rome I am sometimes guilty of taking for granted the luxury of being able to simply drop by San Luigi dei Francesi and Santa Maria del Popolo and see the extraordinary works that Caravaggio made for those churches – they were not moved for the exhibition with visitors invited instead to go and see them in situ. Similarly, when I lived in London, Caravaggio's Supper at Emmaus was a painting I would often visit at the National Gallery and I got a real thrill from seeing that once so familiar painting again in Rome.

Caravaggio at the Scuderie del Quirinale continues until 13 June 2010. The gallery will remain open all night long without a break for the final weekend from 9.00am on Saturday morning through to Sunday evening at 10.00pm.