Recovering Lost Fictions: Caravaggio's Musicians

Desk and chair with disarray of art historian documents and office items covering the desk and spilling onto the floor.

Installation view, Recovering Lost Fictions: Caravaggio's Musicians, MIT List Visual Arts Center, 1997. Archival slide. 

Bakalar Gallery
Featured Artists
Kathleen Gilje
Joseph Grigely
Explore all artists who have exhibited at the List in our Artist Index.

Recovering Lost Fictions is a project by contemporary artists Kathleen Gilje and Joseph Grigely that explores the ways in which art is reconfigured by the institutional processes devoted to its study, using the Del Monte version of The Musicians, recently restored by Gilje, as a case study.

This painting, a variation on Caravaggio’s masterpiece in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is the focus of the project. Like related exhibitions of single works of art at, for example, the National Gallery of Art, the purpose here will be to show how one painting has more than one history, and how the processes of conservation and art criticism contribute towards the construction of these histories. It is spectacularly framed. A carefully researched and documented catalogue will explore the relationship between the first and second versions of The Musicians in the context of Caravaggio’s social and cultural milieu. X-rays made during the restoration of the Del Monte version reveal that the artist had initially painted, then painted over, an extraordinary incident among the three musicians. The catalogue/brochure (also based on a National Gallery of Art model) will be illustrated with photographs and X-rays of the newly restored version, its twin at the Metropolitan and related works from the history of art. It will be written by Grigely, a textual critic, whose Textualterity: Art, Theory, and Textual Criticism (University of Michigan Press, 1995) provides a comprehensive account of the cultural significance of transience affecting works of art and literature.

Installed alongside the Del Monte Musicians will be a table piled with the art historian’s resources used in writing the catalogue. These resources include documents related to the restoration of the painting (X-rays, photographs and technical data regarding pigments and binders), historical records and monographs related to Caravaggio scholarship and, perhaps most significant, the documents that reveal the extent to which history, and the discourse of historical analysis, are subject to continuous remaking.