ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Caravaggio: Master of Radical Naturalism

Updated on March 2, 2011

Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio

David with the Head of Goliath

The Entombment

The Card Sharps

Boy with Basket of Fruit

Judith Beheading Holofernes

Boy Bitten by Lizard

The Life of Caravaggio

Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio—better known simply as Caravaggio—is an artist whose work took a long time in reaching the legendary status that it’s now attained. Despite the fact that his influence created the Baroque school of painting, he was all but forgotten after his death in 1610. It was 1920s art critic Roberto Longhi who researched the work of Caravaggio and wrote about him, bringing the forgotten painter back into the public consciousness and into immortality. Caravaggio is now renowned for the intense realism he brought to his work.

According to the accounts written of Caravaggio, the great Italian painter from the late 16th/early 17th century was a proud fool, who couldn’t comprehend the word compromise. This trait allowed him to create some truly magnificent art but it also led to a difficult and sadly short life.

He was born in Milan in 1571 but soon moved to the hill town of Caravaggio to escape the plague which was ravaging Milan. In 1584, he was apprenticed to a noted Milan painter Simone Peterzano, who was a former apprentice of the famous Titian. He remained under Peterzano’s tutelage for several years. In his spare time, he led a rather wild life and often got into trouble. In 1592, he left for Rome, to escape a criminal charge. Rome was considered back then as “the Center of the Universe for artists”.

Taking the name Caravaggio, he struggled as a hungry painter, sleeping in the streets. Luckily, he made a few friends who had ‘street knowledge’. They knew how to sell and he knew how to paint. Their efforts helped him to become known locally as a talented young artist. Caravaggio soon got a job under a successful painter Giuseppe Cesari. (A favorite of Pope Clement.) Caravaggio started to get noticed. His earliest known painting was “The Boy with the Basket of Fruit”.

After receiving an injury (due again to his wild life) Caravaggio took some time to convalesce and lost his job with Cesari and went solo. He soon met and became friends with other artists like Prospero Ori and Mario Minniti. They introduced him to some collectors who liked his work, but it would take time before he was able to demand a good price. His painting The Fortune Teller was practically stolen away at a bargain basement price. Caravaggio’s style was developing. He created a technique grounded in realism, not only of the physical but “capturing the soul and spirit” of the subjects.

Caravaggio also met architect Onorio Longhi, who would become a close friend and a bad influence on Caravaggio. Caravaggio was already known for being a temperamental and undisciplined fellow. Once Longhi introduced him to the dark and sorted underbelly of Rome, there was no turning back for Caravaggio. He became addicted to the decadent night life of Longhi’s wild world. He frequently engaged in street brawls. Caravaggio, Longhi and their motley crew of rough-and-tumble friends marched around Rome like a street gang, getting into fights and any other trouble possible.

In 1596, Caravaggio soon created his first genuine masterpiece, The Card Sharps, which attracted the attention of the man who would become his patron; Cardinal Francesco Del Monte.

During the Counter Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church was trying to deter the growing influence of Protestantism and so went on a church-building spree. These churches all needed art to fill them and so influential Catholic figures were recruiting artists to do religious renderings. Cardinal Del Monte saw the potential in Caravaggio and allowed him live in the Cardinal’s home while the painter created artwork for the church.

Over the next few years, Caravaggio’s reputation grew. He surpassed expectations, creating a number of brilliant chamber pieces, such as The Musicians, the Lute Player and Bacchus, as well as the allegorical Boy Bitten by a Lizard. He always used models for his paintings, never preliminary sketches. His trademark realism was not as evident in the early lite paintings he did for the church but Del Monte and the other Holy Fathers seemed to prefer it that way. He went on to secure a string of important commissions and he even got commissioned to do a painting for the Pope. Caravaggio became the most popular painter in Rome.

As Caravaggio started to delve into deeper religious themes, the intense realism returned to his work. In his painting, The Penitent Mary Magdalene, he depicts Mary at the moment she turned away from her life as a courtesan and weeps on the floor, her jewels scattered on the floor. The painting captured suffering, repentance and salvation. Others of the same style followed, such as Saint Catherine; Martha and Mary Magdalene, and Saint Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy, among many others. He had mastered the raw naturalism which would become his trademark.

But all is not well in Caravaggio’s world. He enjoyed the wild life and liked to associate with people who were unacceptable to his patron and to the church in genera. Gamblers, thieves and ladies-of-the-evening were his circle of friends. Caravaggio was bisexual and for a time has a male lover named Francesco who accompanied him everywhere. Caravaggio also became obsessed with female prostitutes, which lead him into trouble. Caravaggio was constantly getting arrested for one reason or another.

Caravaggio also raised the ire of the church and the nobles when it was learned that he used his lowborn, impoverished companions as his models. Thieves and thugs were being depicted in paintings hanging in churches. The church was shocked to hear that a prostitute had been used as the model for the Virgin Mary. Caravaggio began painting life as realistically dirty and gritty, not idealized as the church expected him to. He created a series of works that featured violent struggles, torture, decapitations, illness and death. His radical naturalism did not ingratiate him to his Holy masters. Many of these painting were rejected by the church. Caravaggio was incensed when his work is criticized or refused on these grounds. But he was unwilling to compromise his art.

He continued to lead a notoriously undisciplined life and kept getting arrested, embarrassing his patron. When he eventually killed a man in a duel in 1606, the Cardinal Del Monte could no longer protect him. He fled to Naples which was outside the jurisdiction of the Roman authorities. Under the patronage of the influential Colonna family, he continued his career, making such paintings as The Madonna of the Rosary.

After only a year in Naples, he decided to go to Malta and apply for membership in the famous roles of the Knight of Malta, hoping that he could gain the patronage of the Knight’s Grand Master Alof de Wingnacourt. Caravaggio hoped that the important and well connected Grand Master could secure him a Papal pardon for his crime of murder.

While he did manage to become an official knight, his rowdy nature ultimately sabotaged him. He was involved in another duel and his life began a downward spiral from which he would never recover. He was imprisoned for a time and released into the custody of a fellow knight. He then fled to Syracuse, where he got shelter from an old friend. He was expelled from the ranks of the Knights.

He continued to get commissions, albeit not as prestigious as before, and his work continued to evolve. His work of this period included The Adoration of the Shepherds and The Raising of Lazarus. He ended up leaving Syracuse after gaining the enmity of his local peers by insulting their art and at one point, cutting up one a painting with his sword, accusing the painter of stealing and demeaning his style. He returned to Naples under the protection of the Colonna family. He continued to paint, although his health was suffering, due to repeated bouts with Malaria. Also, an attempt was made on his life which left him with a scar. It’s unclear who the attempted murderer was.

He painted David with the Head of Goliath, using his own face as the model for the slain giant, indicating how Caravaggio saw himself at this point. Among his final paintings were John the Baptist and The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula.

The art loving nephew of the Pope, Cardinal Borghese, wanted Caravaggio to do some painting for him so he arranged a pardon for the great painter. In 1610, while en route by boat from Naples to Rome to receive his pardon, Caravaggio became seriously ill, due to another bout with Malaria. He was reportedly brought ashore on the island of Porto Ercole, where he apparently died of an extreme fever at the age of 39. But history is murky on the facts of the real location, date and cause of his death. Human remains later found on Porto Ercole in 2010 are suspected of being Caravaggio’s but there is no factual certainty regarding exactly where and how he died.

Caravaggio was a genius who created many masterpieces and inspired the Baroque style, but his inability to control his temper and follow the rules of society caused him endless difficulties throughout his tumultuous life.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image

      wereleopard58 

      5 years ago

      Hi, I am studying him for my myths assignment. I am doing cupid. His stood out because of the full frontal image and the black wings. Do you think that is how he saw love and sexual counters, because of his personal life with the male love, prostitutes and that seedy life

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      6 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hello Tony; I wish I could paint half as well as he did. Glad you liked the hub,

      Thanks for reading,

      Rob

    • tonymead60 profile image

      Tony Mead 

      6 years ago from Yorkshire

      Rob,

      When I was an art student way back in the sixties, Titian, Caravaggio and Raphael were the artists that I most wanted to steal their skills.

      He certainly seemed to have lived life to the full and I think in many ways it held him back.

      I like the way you've used the pictures in this article to illustrate the man's genius.

      voted up

      regards Tony

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hi; Glad you liked the hub. Thanks for commenting, billclewis.

    • profile image

      billclewis2 

      7 years ago

      Had always loved his work, but was unaware of his personal history being so troubled. Thank you for the insights.

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      8 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      That may well be, dahoglund. Thanks for reading.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Good biographical sketch. Perhaps the uncontrolled wild streak is also what makes them so creative.

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      8 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Good to hear from you HH. Glad you enjoyed it.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      8 years ago from London, UK

      A wonderful tribute to a great painter with comprehensive information of his life..

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      8 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Thanks for the kind words, Christopher. I wonder if a chaotic, tumultuous life is the trade off such men make for attaining immortality through their work.

    • Christopher Price profile image

      Christopher Price 

      8 years ago from Vermont, USA

      Well written and researched.

      The classic tale of a genius rebel artist unable to control those endorphins while burning the candle at both ends.

      His art was based after all on the dramatic use of light and shadow.

      Good read.

      CP

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)