The priceless value of a presence

Nobody bought it, this incredible villa Aurora in Rome, put on sale in January for 353 million euros. Nobody, neither the Italian State, nor Bill Gates or the Sultan of Brunei despite the rumours, has acquired this surely unsaleable jewel, despite… or because of its beauty. Indeed the Villa Aurora is the only villa in the world decorated with a mural painting by Caravaggio. Itself estimated at 310 million euros, the fresco by this Baroque Italian painter is an oil painting that represents Jupiter, Pluto and Neptune, with the terrestrial globe and the signs of the zodiac in its center… in other words, a an exception in the work of this artist who almost exclusively painted works of a religious nature, celebrating beauty and the divine by working on light – his famous “chiaroscuro”.

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I had the chance to see several of his paintings in Rome, in churches and museums, but it was in Milan, the city where he was born, that I was most marked by one of them. theySupper at Emmaus. The risen Christ is seated in an inn with the Emmaus pilgrims with whom he has just walked and talked without their recognizing him, and he reveals his identity to them by simple gestures: after saying the blessing and taking the bread, he breaks it. “Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; but he disappeared from before them”says the Gospel of Luke.

On Caravaggio’s painting, Jesus is seated, serious, his eyes lowered, almost distant, his face crossed by an ocher light, fragile, the innkeeper and his wife, standing at his side, are in a kind of presence-absence, the two disciples, seated in front of him, mark a stupefaction, a shock of the whole body, yet they have no real momentum, no spontaneous sign of love or emotion.

I was overwhelmed by this furtive moment, the strength of this static painting (three men seated) and which nevertheless gives us to see the brilliance of a moment, and its fragility. The five characters in the canvas may well be very embodied, earthy, solid even, marked by fatigue, marked by wrinkles and destitution, everything seems, like the figure of Christ, on the verge of disappearance. How, in a canvas where everything appears so concrete, so detailed, did the artist manage to offer us this dark scene, exactly as if he had suddenly lit it up with a simple match: a flash of light, and then , the farewell ? And here we are faced with absence and endless questions (” Is it possible ? “)to guilt (“Why didn’t I recognize him sooner?”)and regret (“Why didn’t I remember it?”). This painting is the painter and his anxieties, but it is also ourselves and our failures, our blindnesses, it is our indolence and our nonchalance which too often prevent us from tasting the flavor of the moment, and above all, the gift of a presence.

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To pierce the mystery of this painting, an entire existence would not be enough, and it could be painted on the ceiling of my own apartment, even though I lived lying under it, I would not pierce it, but on the contrary would discover every day a new aspect, and it would remain a magnificent perpetual enigma. Just like life. This gift, which we so often take for granted, and whose priceless value we measure, when it capsizes. How much is a villa with a Caravaggio fresco worth? How much is the presence of a loved one near you worth? How much is peace worth? How much is a day of our existence worth? One hour ? One minute ?

Caravaggio, this dangerous man, this exile accused of murder, this man who died perhaps by poisoning, confronted in his painting, the crucial moments of a life, the struggles, the trials, death, giving them a light like one pays homage, with audacity, with talent, ravaged by doubt, caught between illumination and dejection. It is a perpetual search, through so many wanderings and blindnesses, because just like on the road to Emmaus, our eyes are often “prevented from recognizing”, but the divine is in each of us, since we carry life, this miracle. It is up to us to feel his presence, at every moment.


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