Football as an altarpiece

by Peder Samdal

Sometimes a moment is just a moment. It could be a shot in the top corner, perfectly captured by the photographer behind goal. And sometimes a moment is full of stories. The photo of Piermario Morosini dying in front of his teammates, his opponents, club doctors, paramedics, referees and thousands of spectators is such a moment.

It is also a photo that can be taken out of the football scene. Take away the jerseys and replace them with a kirtle. Take away the green grass, and replace it with a dirt floor. Take away the football, take away the stretcher. Take away the photographer, and put in a painter.

Morosini 1

No one else than Caravaggio could have painted an altarpiece of Piermario Morosinis heartbreaking death, his final match and tragic story. It comes as no surprise that the two Italians have little in common, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was born in 1571 and died in 1610. Piermario Morosini, born 1986, died 2012. This means that Caravaggio never got to know the game of football and the art of catenaccio. Still, if Caravaggio was living today, he wouldn’t have searched the Bible for inspiration, he would have looked at football matches. And if Morosini’s life story was religious fiction, he would have been restored to life, just as Lazarus.

Piermario Morosini was a footballer everybody wanted to succeed. From an early age it became clear that Morosini was a talented young player. He played youth football for Atalanta, until he was signed by Udinese in 2005. In these developing years, Morosini also started to represent his country at youth level, and went on to get caps for the U-17, U-18, U-19, U-20 and U-21. The defensive midfielder never established himself at Udinese, and instead started a loan odyssey, which brought him to Bologna, Vicenza (who signed him permanently for a short time), Reggina, Padova and Livorno. He was an average player who never made the big headlines in the pink papers. Something that was underlined by the fact he only scored twice in 207 matches at senior level and for the national sides.

Caravaggio, on the other hand, was anything but average. He did anything but walk around quietly, and made many enemies during his turbulent life. If Caravaggio is to be compared with a footballer, Morosinis name and position on the field would be at the end of the list. Caravaggio was the painter who made big scandals and powerful enemies, and can safely be labeled an enfant terrible. Carravaggio was the worst and the best, an uncontrollable striker, not unlike Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Mario Balotelli. Foremost he is remembered for his powerful and realistic painting.

As many of his contemporary painters he painted scenes from the Bible, but differed from them by placing the dramatic scenes in back alleys, where the dark was at its darkest, and gave the Biblical figures the same features as the men and women from the street. Caravaggio was interested in human suffering he found among the poor in Rome and Naples, and used them as model to his paintings. This is why Caravaggio would have been moved and inspired by Morosini’s family history.

Morosini 2

At its highest the Morosini family counted five. A mother and father, with three children. Piermario was number three in line, and the only child without functional disabilities. His brother Francesco and sister Maria Carla, was severely handicapped, with his sister also suffering from mental retardation. In other words, Piermario did not have the same background as the majority of other footballers. Still, the accidents continue to follow the Morosinis. When Piermario was fifteen years old, his mother died, without the doctors finding out the cause. Two years later, his father dies of a heart attack. At the age seventeen, Piermario stands without parents and with responsibility for his two handicapped siblings. But the tragic family story doesn’t end there. In the same years as their father dies, Francisco commits suicide. Piermario is alone with his sister. The cardiac arrest in the match between Livorno and Pescara was still nine years away.

Caravaggios family story can’t in any way be compared with Morosinis, even though his father died from plague when Caravaggio was six years old, but this was not unusual in a plagued driven Milano in the end of the 14th century. During his life, Caravaggio got involved in several feuds, because of drink, fame, money and woman. In 1606 he found himself in a sword duel, and ended up killing his foe. The killing made Caravaggio persona non grata in Rome, and led to his flight to Naples, then to the knights in Malta, where he again made himself unpopular, and ran away to Palermo and Naples. In 1610 his luck ran out, and he was himself murdered. His remains were found on a remote beach north of Naples.

Caravaggio painted a number of majestic altarpieces. The Crucifixion of St. Peter and The Conversion of St. Paul have its home in the Cerasi Chapel, belonging to the church of Maria del Popolo in Rome, and The Calling of Saint Matthew belongs to the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi, also in Rome. The Bible scenes automatically give the painting dramatic stories, with the paintings main figures standing at cross-road in their lives. Holy men such as St. Peter, St. Paul and St. Matthew were given human features like anger, doubt, guilt, sorrow, and suffering. Caravaggio painted them down to street level, the holy men’s battle scenes were witnessed by the poor, standing shoulder by shoulder. To find scenes like this today, you have to go to war or to a football match.

At least if one is searching for collective joy and sorrow, on the same stage. Features, body control, the victory and the defeat. Every artist with an interest for storytelling in painting, should also be interested in football, if not for the game itself, then for the variety of body language. In recent time, artists have made a sculpture of Zinedine Zidane’s famous headbutt on Marco Materazzi. An image from the football scene has also been victim of censorship. A photo of Carlos Puyol and Xavi celebrating was too strong for a Catalan newspaper, who decided to revise their front page because of the photos sexual implications.

The photos of Piermario Morosini lying on the ground would definitely have captured Caravaggio, and could have inspired him to make another altarpiece. Morosini is surrounded by desperate doctors, worried paramedics (who are looking for the ambulance, which was blocked from entering the field) and crying players. In a world where football is compared to religion, stadiums to churches, and where Karl Marx’ phrase religion is the opium for the people, is being used about football, Morosini should be honored in an altarpiece.

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply