Baroque Artists - Caravaggio
Painting Visionary or Victim of Fame
Caravaggio was an innovative Baroque painter from the 17th Century, born Michaelangelo Merisi in Caravaggio, near Milan in 1571. He studied under Simone Peterzano for four years and then in 1590 he moved to Rome. Here he started to move in more influential circles and meeting patrons and fellow artists. He was nineteen and the world lay at his feet but less than twenty years later, by 1610, at the age of 39 he was dead.
Was Caravaggio the victim of his own fame and like so many tragic, creative individuals throughout history eventually bought down early by his success? If he had lived today the paparazzi would have dogged his every step, waiting or provoking his next outburst. Like the drug fuelled stories of Pete Doherty or Russell Crowes latest fight, Caravaggio would have filled our papers daily.
At the time Protestantism was in the accendancy and the old order needed to shed its Mannerist visual cloak and adopt a new image. The Catholic church decreed that from now on commissions should have a clear simplicity, communicating the texts of the bible to all people. It was here that the young Caravaggio’s work create great interest.
His paintings were narative, posessing a dramatic sense of colour and light and pictorial realism, unlike his Mannerist predisessors, his works captured the moment upon which the real drama pivoted. Dispensing with the conventions set down during central Italy’s Renaissance period, Caravaggio prefered the Venetion practice of working directly onto the canvass, creating simply posed, dramatic and lifelike groups of figures. He soon had many young imitators keen to join the Caravaggisti and emulate him, amongst these was his friend, fellow artist and sometimes model, the Sicilian Mario Minniti.
The genius whose style was responsible for the new branding of the church had a darker side though. Notourious; even for his time, he was a drunken brawler and with an antagonistic personality, regularly getting into fights and arguments. An article about Caravaggio in 1604 describes him saying that "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." The writing was on the wall.
On May 29th 1606, he tragically killed Ranuccio Tomassino by accident, during a row after a tennis match. Normally his wealthy patrons could protect him but against murder even they were powerless and he was forced to flee to Naples. Despite securing a string of commissions he remained there a few months before leaving for Malta. Over the next two years success continued. He was made the official artist to the Knights of Malta, eventually becoming one himself. But once again his temper got the better of him and after attacking a knight and severely wounding him he was forced into hiding and escaped to Sicily.
The contraversial paintings of CaravaggioClick thumbnail to view full-size
In Sicily he was once more he was lavished with jobs completing a large body of work. However he was still failing to win favour with the locals, insulting their artists and acting in an increasingly bizarre manner, sleeping fully clothed and armed and destroying paintings at the slightest criticism. After an attempt on his life left him seriously scared he decided his best plan would be to return to the safety of Naples and hope to secure a full pardon from the Pope.
With the aid of his rich patrons, this he was notified of in the summer of 1609 and he duly travelled north to receive . Sadly another incident took place in Porto Ercole, Grosetto and a poster circulated proclaiming that the famous artist Caravaggio had died of a fever, resulting from a wound he received in an arguement. A tragic end to an artistic visionary.
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