Michelangelo Merisi Caravaggio born Michelangelo Merisi, in the village of Caravaggio, Italy. He studied in Milan and Venice before going to Rome to work under the patronage of Cardinal Del Monte on altarpieces and religious paintings. His patron was startled not only by Caravaggio's scandalous behavior but also by his rejection of the Roman ideals and techniques of painting.
His paintings, which combine a realistic observation of the human state, both physical and emotional, with a dramatic use of lighting, had a formative influence on Baroque painting and radically changed the course of art in general.
Instead, Michelangelo Merisi Caravaggio headed the Naturalisti (imitators of nature in a row), developing a mastery of light and shade and concentrating on realism, regardless of theological correctness. The most innovative quality of his work was its passionate, raw, poetic realism, drawn directly from everyday life. His early paintings depict urchins, charlatans, gypsies, and all kinds of dubious characters, introducing a novelty that was subsequently imitated throughout Europe.
Initially, Caravaggio's indecorum caused a scandal and magnificent works were rejected because they were considered too close to real life. Gradually, however, the churches of Rome began to accept his works which marked a new era in painting. Diagonal lateral rays of light illuminate scenes full of dramatic action, in which deep religious spirit is immersed in a wealth of everyday detail. This scene takes place in a humble, but intensely moving setting. In Madonna of Loreto, Mary is depicted as a simple woman, very different from traditional iconography. The two poor, ragged, filthy pilgrims kneeling before her, however, are the real protagonists of the scene and show the viewer a close up of their sore, dirty feet, realistic details that brought bitter criticism from Caravaggio's contemporaries.
The paintings in San Luigi Dei Francesi, the church of the French community in Rome houses the most important works in Caravaggio's career. Completed in 1600, they constitute a major turning point in the history of art. The viewer is almost literally drawn into the scene as it reaches its dramatic conclusion.
Placed over the altar in the chapel, this painting is the second version of The Inspiration of Saint Matthew. In the first version, the poses of the saints and angels had been considered indecorous and the painting was rejected and destroyed by fire during WW2. The second version is more pleasant, but perhaps less intense than the first. Here, St Matthew is balanced precariously in an unconventional pose as he writes down the words dictated by the beautiful angel in flight, a heavenly messenger who stands out brightly against the black background.
The Calling Of Saint Matthew Christ invites the tax collector Matthew, depicted with his companion in a large guard house, to follow him. Between the two main figures, there is a silent, though extremely clear dialogue of gestures. On the right, Christ raises his hand to point to Matthew, who in turn, points to himself in astonishment. The young men in plumed hats turn casually, as the soldiers greedily count money. The light that floods in from the right, towards the flaking wall and dusty windows, is key to the interpretation of this work since it directs the observer's gaze to the focal point. In this shabby, realistic setting, light is a symbolic allusion to the divine grace that enters everyday life.
The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew is the most dramatic episode in the series, a brutal execution, carried out by the killer who bursts into the church to strike down the saint during the celebration of mass. The assassin shouts, St Matthew groans, an altar boy flees screaming, and the people scatter. The martyr is left alone and the church is filled with darkness. Above, a solitary angel reaches down to give the saint a palm branch, the symbol of martyrdom and his ascent to heaven. However, it is difficult to tell if the saint is raising his hand to defend himself or to grasp the palm. In the background to the left, is a pale, frowning man with a black beard; Caravaggio has depicted himself in the painting as an eyewitness of the scene.
From the outset of his career, his work was marked by a realistic approach. Thanks to his incomparable mastery, he is considered to be the true founder of the still life genre and his works were immediately sought after by collectors, he had himself stated that it takes as much skill to make a good painting of flowers as one of the figures. However, his only work that can be considered a “pure” still life is his Basket of Fruit, which has been in Cardinal Federico Borromeo's collection in Milan since it was painted in 1596. The collection opened to the public under the name Pinacoteca Ambrosiana in 1618.
Caravaggio arrived in Naples in 1606 for the first of his two stays, his second stay was from 1609-10. these were two exceptional periods, not only for the memorable works Caravaggio produced but also for the rapid development of the local Neapolitan school. Throughout the entire seventeenth century, the Neapolitan school produced an uninterrupted series of outstanding painters and became renowned as one of the most exciting centers of figurative art in Europe. The Neapolitan painters rapidly assimilated the innovative elements of realism, use of light, and intense emotional involvement introduced by Caravaggio.
In 1606, at the peak of his career, he was jailed on several occasions, vandalized his own apartment, and ultimately had a death sentence pronounced against him by decapitation, by the Pope after he had killed a man in an argument over a game of tennis. Rather than face the sentence he fled Rome, traveling to Naples, Malta, Sicily, and back to Naples, before reaching Porto Ercole where he contracted a fever and died in 1610. On every stage of his journey, he left masterpieces in his wake, which, however, increasingly reveal his growing anguish. Nonetheless, Caravaggio had caused a revolution in painting that not only involved artists, but also the viewers, who were called upon to play a more intense role, not merely as detached observers but as eyewitnesses to the dramatic events unfolding before their eyes.
This spectacular, dramatic scene Judith Beheading Holofernes is part of a distinct group of paintings, executed at the beginning of Caravaggio's relationship with Cardinal Del Monte, in which the figures are drawn with unusual, almost harsh clarity, for example, the face of the old handmaid who accompanies Judith. a clear, still light reveals even the most macabre details: the severed head and the flowing blood are an almost leitmotif of the painter's career. he repeatedly chooses subjects involving decapitation (Medusa, Judith, David and Goliath, John the Baptist), at first subconsciously and then, after he was condemned to death by decapitation in 1606, as a terrible reference to his own life.
Michelangelo Merisi Caravaggio led a tumultuous life. He was notorious for brawling, and the transcripts of his police records and trial proceedings fill several pages. Paints used at the time contained high amounts of lead salts. The painter is known to have indulged in violent behavior, as caused by lead poisoning.
In October 1969, two thieves entered the Oratory of San Lorenzo in Palermo, Italy and removed the Caravaggio Nativity with Saint Lawrence and Saint Francis from its frame. Experts estimate its value at $20 million.
Art Movement History: Baroque.
Artists Influencing Caravaggio: Simone Peterzano.
Painters Caravaggio Influenced: Annibale Carracci, Peter Paul Rubens, Jose de Ribera, Gianlorenzo Bernini, Rembrandt.
He Traveled To Malta.
Artist's Biography compiled by Albert L. Mansour at The World's Artist.