Caravaggio and His Followers in Rome…with Children

When I take my children to the museum, I wing it. I think it’s almost better to not have a plan and just have the attitude that you’re going to see what you can see as long as the kids can last. I love to be led by my children and see what artwork they gravitate toward. 

My mom and I recently took my son and daughter to the Kimbell Art Museum’s Caravaggio exhibit. Caravaggio and his followers in Rome was one of those monumental exhibits that was a must see before it ended.  The fifty plus paintings were shown exclusively at the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa and Fort Worth’s Kimbell. It was only the third exhibit of Caravaggio’s work ever displayed in the United States. It was amazing to see so many of his paintings together since only about seventy-five exist.

Caravaggio (1571-1610) was an Italian artist who created for private collectors in Rome. His paintings have a way of telling a story with everyday people that even children can be curious about. The dramatic funny faces, card games, and dreamy look of his characters draw you in and make you wonder… “are they like me?” He also painted many religious scenes of beheadings and blood that my mom and I quickly viewed then went onward to baby Jesus. Caravaggio’s realistic paintings of interesting facial expressions made my children laugh out loud.

Simon Vouet’s theatrical response to Caravaggio’s Gypsy Fortune Teller  The Fortune Teller, 1620

We saw many children viewing the Caravaggio exhibit with their parents. Not all museums are child friendly. Lucky for us, there are many museums in the United States that are. There is usually a hands-on kid’s area in most museums in America. You really can’t say the same for museums in Europe.  How nice for my family that we have two very child friendly art museums in the North Texas area, the Dallas Museum of Art and Kimbell Art Museum. Both museums have family festival events and encourage young children to come explore art-making activities, see live performances, and simply make the museum a happy place that children will want to visit again and again. The Kimbell has a family fun day event coming up February 18th.

When visiting a museum with young children and there are too many tall adults blocking the art, parents have an unwritten permission to cop-a-squat with their little one in the front and see art from their perspective. I liked asking my children questions to get them to think out loud. I asked them: Is that man grumpy or happy? What game are they playing? Can you find an animal? I notice that children always recognize other children their age. My little boy would point and say, “Look Mommy, there’s a kid like me” and “Mommy, they’re playing cards.”

Kimbell’s own CaravaggioThe Cardsharps, 1595

I have always felt museums to be powerful learning environments that give children opportunities to explore, observe and experience art. Children get to choose what to look at, and they leave with the pictures stored in their heads. The memories they created are filed for future reference. Museum experiences help provide children with knowledge and understanding of the world all while gaining an appreciation for art.

Today we can see many different settings in which there is an attempt to morph into a museum. A real museum experience to me should be in a real museum, not like those efforts you may see in a fair-like setting.

When I visit an exhibit, I’m always amazed that no two paintings are exactly alike. There may be a change of light or seasons… I think of Claude Monet and how he experimented with light. It’s fascinating to me how each of his paintings, similar though they may be, have a different feeling or warmth to them.

The Kimbell houses one of my favorite Matisse paintings that I always look forward to revisiting when I’m there. I loved sharing it with my children for the first time. When we left the Kimbell, they yelled out, “Bye Matisse, we’ll see you later!” And…we will!

The Kimbell houses my favorite Henri Matisse, L’Asie, 1946

Looking for inspiration? Here’s a list of children’s books about art and going to the museum:

Jane O’Connor’s Fancy Nancy at the Museum

Blue Balliett’s Chasing Vermeer

Arlene Boehm’s Jack in Search of Art

Lisa Jobe Carmack’s Philippe in Monet’s Garden

Elaine Clayton’s Ella’s Trip to the Museum

Don Freeman’s Norman the Doorman

Jacqueline P. Weitzman’s You Can’t Take a Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum

Cristina Bjork’s Linnea in Monet’s Garden

Nina Laden’s When Pigasso Met Mootisse

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