This is a tribute to the magnificent Italian Artist, Caravaggio.
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was born on 29th of September of 1571, in Milan, Italy.
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 the Baroque school of painting.
Caravaggio trained as a painter in Milan under Simone Peterzano who had himself trained under Titian.
In his twenties Caravaggio moved to Rome where, during the late 16th and early 17th centuries, many huge new churches and palazzi were being built and paintings were needed to fill them.
During the Counter-Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church searched for religious art with which to counter the threat of Protestantism, and for this task the artificial conventions of Mannerism, which had ruled art for almost a century, no longer seemed adequate.
Caravaggio’s novelty was a radical naturalism that combined close physical observation with a dramatic, even theatrical, use of chiaroscuro.
This came to be known as Tenebrism, the shift from light to dark with little intermediate value.
He burst upon the Rome art scene in 1600 with the success of his first public commissions, the Martyrdom of Saint Matthew and Calling of Saint Matthew.
Thereafter he never lacked commissions or patrons, yet he handled his success poorly.
He was jailed on several occasions, vandalized his own apartment, and ultimately had a death warrant issued for him by the Pope.
An early published notice on him, dating from 1604 and describing his lifestyle three years previously, tells how “after a fortnight’s work he will swagger about for a month or two with a sword at his side and a servant following him, from one ball-court to the next, ever ready to engage in a fight or an argument, so that it is most awkward to get along with him.”
In 1606 he killed a young man in a brawl and fled from Rome with a price on his head.
He was involved in a brawl in Malta in 1608, and another in Naples in 1609, possibly a deliberate attempt on his life by unidentified enemies.
This encounter left him severely injured. A year later, at the age of 38, he died under mysterious circumstances in Porto Ercole, reportedly from a fever while on his way to Rome to receive a pardon.
Famous while he lived, Caravaggio was forgotten almost immediately after his death, and it was only in the 20th century that his importance to the development of Western art was rediscovered.
Despite this, his influence on the new Baroque style that eventually emerged from the ruins of Mannerism was profound.
It can be seen directly or indirectly in the work of Rubens, Jusepe de Ribera, Bernini, and Rembrandt, and artists in the following generation heavily under his influence were called the “Caravaggisti” or “Caravagesques”, as well as Tenebrists or “Tenebrosi” (“shadowists”).
Art historian Andre Berne-Joffroy said of him: “What begins in the work of Caravaggio is, quite simply, modern painting.”
As an Artist: The birth of Baroque.
Caravaggio “put the oscuro (shadows) into chiaroscuro.”
Chiaroscuro was practiced long before he came on the scene, but it was Caravaggio who made the technique a dominant stylistic element, darkening the shadows and transfixing the subject in a blinding shaft of light.
With this came the acute observation of physical and psychological reality which formed the ground both for his immense popularity and for his frequent problems with his religious commissions.
He worked at great speed, from live models, scoring basic guides directly onto the canvas with the end of the brush handle; very few of Caravaggio’s drawings appear to have survived, and it is likely that he preferred to work directly on the canvas.
The approach was anathema to the skilled artists of his day, who decried his refusal to work from drawings and to idealise his figures.
Yet the models were basic to his realism. Some have been identified, including Mario Minniti and Francesco Boneri, both fellow artists, Mario appearing as various figures in the early secular works, the young Francesco as a succession of angels, Baptists and Davids in the later canvasses.
His female models include Fillide Melandroni, Anna Bianchini, and Maddalena Antognetti (the “Lena” mentioned in court documents of the “artichoke” case as Caravaggio’s concubine), all well-known prostitutes, who appear as female religious figures including the Virgin and various saints.
Caravaggio himself appears in several paintings, his final self-portrait being as the witness on the far right to the Martyrdom of Saint Ursula.
Caravaggio had a noteworthy ability to express in one scene of unsurpassed vividness the passing of a crucial moment.
The Supper at Emmaus depicts the recognition of Christ by his disciples: a moment before he is a fellow traveler, mourning the passing of the Messiah, as he never ceases to be to the inn-keeper’s eyes, the second after, he is the Saviour.
In The Calling of St Matthew, the hand of the Saint points to himself as if he were saying “who, me?”, while his eyes, fixed upon the figure of Christ, have already said, “Yes, I will follow you”.
With The Resurrection of Lazarus, he goes a step further, giving us a glimpse of the actual physical process of resurrection.
The body of Lazarus is still in the throes of rigor mortis, but his hand, facing and recognizing that of Christ, is alive.
Other major Baroque artists would travel the same path, for example Bernini, fascinated with themes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
The installation of the St. Matthew paintings in the Contarelli Chapel had an immediate impact among the younger artists in Rome, and Caravaggism became the cutting edge for every ambitious young painter.
The first Caravaggisti included Orazio Gentileschi and Giovanni Baglione. Baglione’s Caravaggio phase was short-lived; Caravaggio later accused him of plagiarism and the two were involved in a long feud.
Baglione went on to write the first biography of Caravaggio.
In the next generation of Caravaggisti there were Carlo Saraceni, Bartolomeo Manfredi and Orazio Borgianni. Gentileschi, despite being considerably older, was the only one of these artists to live much beyond 1620, and ended up as court painter to Charles I of England.
His daughter Artemisia Gentileschi was also close to Caravaggio, and one of the most gifted of the movement.
Yet in Rome and in Italy it was not Caravaggio, but the influence of Annibale Carracci, blending elements from the High Renaissance and Lombard realism, which ultimately triumphed.
Caravaggio’s brief stay in Naples produced a notable school of Neapolitan Caravaggisti, including Battistello Caracciolo and Carlo Sellitto.
The Caravaggisti movement there ended with a terrible outbreak of plague in 1656, but the Spanish connection – Naples was a possession of Spain – was instrumental in forming the important Spanish branch of his influence.
A group of Catholic artists from Utrecht, the “Utrecht Caravaggisti”, travelled to Rome as students in the first years of the 17th century and were profoundly influenced by the work of Caravaggio, as Bellori describes.
On their return to the north this trend had a short-lived but influential flowering in the 1620s among painters like Hendrick ter Brugghen, Gerrit van Honthorst, Andries Both and Dirck van Baburen.
In the following generation the effects of Caravaggio, although attenuated, are to be seen in the work of Rubens (who purchased one of his paintings for the Gonzaga of Mantua and painted a copy of the Entombment of Christ), Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Velázquez, the last of whom presumably saw his work during his various sojourns in Italy.
Death and rebirth of a reputation:
Caravaggio’s innovations inspired the Baroque, but the Baroque took the drama of his chiaroscuro without the psychological realism.
While he directly influenced the style of the artists mentioned above, and, at a distance, the Frenchmen Georges de La Tour and Simon Vouet, and the Spaniard Giuseppe Ribera, within a few decades his works were being ascribed to less scandalous artists, or simply overlooked.
The Baroque, to which he contributed so much, had evolved, and fashions had changed, but perhaps more pertinently Caravaggio never established a workshop as the Carracci did, and thus had no school to spread his techniques.
Nor did he ever set out his underlying philosophical approach to art, the psychological realism which can only be deduced from his surviving work.
Thus his reputation was doubly vulnerable to the critical demolition-jobs done by two of his earliest biographers, Giovanni Baglione, a rival painter with a personal vendetta, and the influential 17th century critic Gian Pietro Bellori, who had not known him but was under the influence of the earlier Giovanni Battista Agucchi and Bellori’s friend Poussin, in preferring the “classical-idealistic” tradition of the Bolognese school led by the Carracci.
Baglione, his first biographer, played a considerable part in creating the legend of Caravaggio’s unstable and violent character, as well as his inability to draw.
In the 1920s, art critic Roberto Longhi brought Caravaggio’s name once more to the foreground, and placed him in the European tradition: “Ribera, Vermeer, La Tour and Rembrandt could never have existed without him.
And the art of Delacroix, Courbet and Manet would have been utterly different”.
The influential Bernard Berenson agreed: “With the exception of Michelangelo, no other Italian painter exercised so great an influence.”
Only about 80 paintings by Caravaggio have survived, and lost works (or alleged lost works) are found from time to time.
One, The Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew, was recently authenticated and restored; it had been in storage in Hampton Court, mislabeled as a copy.
Richard Francis Burton writes of a “picture of St. Rosario (in the museum of the Grand Duke of Tuscany), showing a circle of thirty men turpiter ligati” which is not known to have survived.
The rejected version of The Inspiration of Saint Matthew intended for the Contarelli Chapel in San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome was destroyed during the bombing of Dresden, though black and white photographs of the work exist.
In June 2011 it was announced that a previously unknown Caravaggio painting of Saint Augustine dating to about 1600 had been discovered in a private collection in Britain.
Called a “significant discovery”, the painting had never been published and is thought to have been commissioned by Vincenzo Giustiniani, a patron of the painter in Rome.
These are some of the wonderful art paintings of Caravaggio:
Cena in Emmaus – Supper at Emmaus
David con la testa di Golia – David with the head of Goliath.
Vocazione di san Matteo – The Calling of Saint Matthew
Boy with a Basket of Fruit
San Gerolamo – Saint Jerome
Adorazione dei pastori.
Thank you again, Wikipedia!
Celebrating Caravaggio’s extraordinary Art!