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Baroque Artists - Caravaggio

Updated on November 21, 2009
Portrait of Caravaggio
Portrait of 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 Caravaggio

Click thumbnail to view full-size
David with Goliaths head. Caravaggio portrays himself as Goliath's headDeath of the Virgin. A well known prostitute was used as the model, creating uproar.Tea with ErasmusThe beheading of St John the Baptist. Again Caravaggio uses his own features as John the Baptist.Saul on the road to Damascus, in which he described horse as representing God.The Madonna, Jesus and St Anna. Took much cleavage on the Madonna, too many wrinkles on Anna.Salome with the head of John the Baptist on a plate. Caravaggio's own head once more.
David with Goliaths head. Caravaggio portrays himself as Goliath's head
David with Goliaths head. Caravaggio portrays himself as Goliath's head
Death of the Virgin. A well known prostitute was used as the model, creating uproar.
Death of the Virgin. A well known prostitute was used as the model, creating uproar.
Tea with Erasmus
Tea with Erasmus
The beheading of St John the Baptist. Again Caravaggio uses his own features as John the Baptist.
The beheading of St John the Baptist. Again Caravaggio uses his own features as John the Baptist.
Saul on the road to Damascus, in which he described horse as representing God.
Saul on the road to Damascus, in which he described horse as representing God.
The Madonna, Jesus and St Anna. Took much cleavage on the Madonna, too many wrinkles on Anna.
The Madonna, Jesus and St Anna. Took much cleavage on the Madonna, too many wrinkles on Anna.
Salome with the head of John the Baptist on a plate. Caravaggio's own head once more.
Salome with the head of John the Baptist on a plate. Caravaggio's own head once more.

 

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.

Other Artists on This Hub

Twentieth Century Welsh Painter - Gwen John
Sister of Augustus John, Rodin's lover and artist

Female Painter from the Baroque Period - Artsmisia Gentileschi
First female member of Florence's Accademia della Arti a Disegno,

Female Painters of the Renaissance - 1400 -1650

Female Renaissance Artist - Sofonisba Anguissola

Rococo Portrait Painting - Rosalba Carriera Innovative miniaturist and pastellist

Australian, French Impressionist - Rupert Bunny

Dadaist - Hannah Hoch

Comments

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    • thinkbefore profile image

      thinkbefore 

      8 years ago

      Thanks for the hub. I guess you've heard the news: They might have discovered a new painting by Caravaggio. Since you wrote this hub on him, I am interested in what you think, especially with respect to authenticity. Some think it's not his.

      I've just written a hub on that:

      https://hubpages.com/art/New-Caravaggio

    • Laura Spector profile image

      Laura Spector 

      9 years ago from Chiang Mai, Thailand

      Thanks for this hub. Caravaggio is one of my favorites!

    • caoshub profile image

      caoshub 

      9 years ago from Portugal

      I love caravaggio's works. we can really leran from them! great hub.

    • Amanda Severn profile image

      Amanda Severn 

      9 years ago from UK

      Caravaggio was such a towering talent. What a pity he couldn't keep his temper reigned in, he might then have lived as long as Michaelangelo, and left us with an even greater artistic legacy. I enjoyed your precis of his life, and yes, I can see the analogy between Caravaggio and Russell Crowe. Very apt.

    • profile image

      pgrundy 

      9 years ago

      I enjoyed this, thank you. The paintings are wonderful. What a life. I like these realistic paintings and the way he put real people into them instead of idealized images of what we might imagine these characters to be. There's a good art museum in Chicago that I visit sometimes--I'm not well-educated about art, but I like to go. :)

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