Yet because they have personality, they are, in a sense, ideals. Caravaggio's figures are ideals of human personality. They stand at moments where we have been, they react to experiences as we would. They look like us in all our reality of both beauty and ugliness.
...and the startled, incredulous look on the tax collector's face when the Lord points him out with singleness of purpose.
Or his inspiration as he writes the Holy Gospel (though I prefer Caravaggio's original, but rejected, painting of this subject where the angel guides the Evangelist's hand.)
Dare I even comment on this painting? It speaks for itself.
Just one more before I make my point.... The Crucifixion of St. Peter.
He is calm, unafraid, though his hands and feet have been pierced and even at the moment he is being lifted to die. He looks both at his cloak and at you. He seems to be saying, "When I was young like you, I dressed myself and went where I pleased. But now I am old I have stretched out my hands and someone else has dressed me and carried me where I did not wish to go. Yet I am glad for my Savior is at hand."
But I did not bring you, dear reader, through a brief sample of Caravaggio for the sake of these paintings. I wanted to introduce a bit of his style for the sake of comparison. For among all his paintings, this one grabbed my attention and held it. And when I was shown a painting by the daughter of one of his students treating the same subject, I must confess, I was more than a little intrigued.
If you know your Apocrypha, you could probably guess that this is indeed "Judith Decapitating Holofernes." The young, beautiful Judith divinely assisted to slay the pagan king who attacks Jerusalem.
I'm not certain I completely buy into the whole "gender roles" theory, but the distinctions between the two paintings definitely seem to hold. (I'm more inclined to attribute the revenge to Artemisia's own painful youth and the reverberations from that incident. At least, several of her other paintings seem to reflect a sort of inward struggle with these sort of situations.)