The Enigma of Polidoro di Caravaggio
“What had been incipiently eccentric in Polidoro’s art in Rome emerged now as a deforming fantasy, verging on effects of caricature. A conscious exploration into anti-classicism is supported by devices of form and expression borrowed from the Flemish and Germanic works that made so large a part of the artistic culture of the Scillies.” Sydney Freedberg.
Sebastiano’s Christ was painted in refuge in Venice in 1528. Many artists had no option but to flee Rome and seek work (and safety) in some more sheltered berth. And Polidoro Caldara (Polidoro di Caravaggio, no relation to his 17th century namesake) also took this decision. Born in Caravaggio, in what is now Lombardy, Vasari tells us Polidoro worked as a labourer carrying the materials for the builders of the Vatican logge; he ingratiated himself with the artists, and attracted the admiration of Maturino da Firenze, one of Raphael's main assistants in the ongoing decoration of the Vatican. He then joined Raphael's large workshop, in about 1517, and worked on the Raphael Rooms in the Vatican under his foreman Giulio Romano. Following Giulio the apprentice’s early works in Rome are examples of refined antiquarianism, almost in imitation of ancient Roman painting. But he diverged from Romano with his creation of a vitalised archaeological form of painting in which landscape came to play a significant part, as in the lateral murals for scenes from the life of Mary Magdalene in S Silvestro al Quirinale in Rome (above). When the Sack put both him and livelihood in danger, He fled to Naples where he is recorded in October 1528, though he appears to have sojourned previously in Naples in 1523, this time to escape the puritanism of the Dutch pope Adrian VI. After a period of painting altars and mainly façades, he decided to settle in Messina. Modellos survive for a set of paintings he created for the fish-merchants of Naples. In the year of the plague 1526, a votive chapel was expanded into a full church, Santa Maria delle Grazie alla Pescheria which was destroyed in 1968 with many of the panels disappearing. According to tradition, he was about to return from Messina to the mainland of Italy when he was robbed and murdered by an assistant, Tonno Calabrese, in 1543. Polidoro's main extant paintings in Naples and Sicily include a Crucifixion, painted in Messina, and a Deposition of Christ (1527) and a Christ Carrying the Cross (1530–34) both in the Museo di Capodimonte of Naples, who have the best collection of his work. There is also an oil sketch in the National Gallery, London, one of the earliest examples of the technique. His late paintings like the Christ bearing the Cross in Messina done for Petro Ansalone consul of the Catalan Confraternity there refers back to the old standby of Raphael’s Spasimo and perhaps Michelangelo’s Conversion of St Paul, but despite the singularity of his art, or perhaps because of it Polidoro does not influence the development of painting in southern Italy.
 Ibid, 225.
 Ibid, 692, note 69.
 Martin Clayton, Raphael and his Circle: Drawings from Windsor Castle, (Merrel Holberton, 2000), no 62. There is also a design for this commission in the Albertina, Vienna.
 From the National Gallery’s website: “This is one of three preparatory oil sketches for Polidoro's most important Sicilian commission, a monumental altarpiece of the same subject painted for the church of the Catalan brotherhood in Messina. The altarpiece was completed before 1534. It was carried aloft in a street procession, forming part of a moving Passion play, and was revered by the islanders as a kind of miraculous relic.” Appeared on the English art market in the 1930s, bt by Philip Pouncey in 1959. For detailed discussion, see Larry Keith, Minna Moore Ede and Carol Plazzota, NG Technical Bulletin: “Polidoro da Caravaggio’s Way to Calvary: Technique, Style and Function,” (NG, 2004).
 Ansalone family owned a chapel in the Olivetan monastery of S. Maria della Spasimo in Palermo, which of course housed Raphael’s late masterpiece.