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Caravaggio and Me

Updated on March 29, 2016

Inclusion of Paintings I Use As Examples

I have tried to arrange the paintings I mention in my article in an order that makes it easier to view and help understand what I have written.

Caravaggio's "Conversion of Saint Paul" (Picture 1)

Caravaggio's exquisite "Conversion of Saint Paul" at the Sante Maria del Popolo in Rome
Caravaggio's exquisite "Conversion of Saint Paul" at the Sante Maria del Popolo in Rome

"The Resurrection" and "Death of the Virgin" by Caravaggio

"Less than perfect" Christ - more realistic.
"Less than perfect" Christ - more realistic.
Another less than perfect representation - A realistic looking Virgin Mary - to me it makes her more real.
Another less than perfect representation - A realistic looking Virgin Mary - to me it makes her more real.

Angelica and Medoro by Peterzano

Can see where he influenced Caravaggio when Caravaggio apprenticed under him.
Can see where he influenced Caravaggio when Caravaggio apprenticed under him.

"A Sacre Conversazione: The Madonna and Child" by Titian

Can see here where he influenced Caravaggio in the illumination aspect of a painting but Caravaggio would take it much further - dramatic.
Can see here where he influenced Caravaggio in the illumination aspect of a painting but Caravaggio would take it much further - dramatic.
An interior shot of the Sante Maria Del Popolo in Rome, Italy.
An interior shot of the Sante Maria Del Popolo in Rome, Italy.

Caravaggio's "Boy with Basket of Fruit"

Please note the imperfection in the fruit -realistic, not idealized.
Please note the imperfection in the fruit -realistic, not idealized.

Rembrandt's "The Night Watch"

An obvious influence of Caravaggio with Rembrandt = both geniuses. I did a  nicely graded paper using this painting to compare with Caravaggio's style of painting.
An obvious influence of Caravaggio with Rembrandt = both geniuses. I did a nicely graded paper using this painting to compare with Caravaggio's style of painting.

'David Holding Goliath's Head" by Caravaggio (Picture 9)

Example where Caravaggio included himself in one of his paintings. I will let you guess which he is! Definitely shows a sense of humor or some psychological  self-degradation on his part. Either way it is interesting.
Example where Caravaggio included himself in one of his paintings. I will let you guess which he is! Definitely shows a sense of humor or some psychological self-degradation on his part. Either way it is interesting.

My Favorite Painter - Caravaggio

Feeling the need in the last few weeks to write about things that I am passionate about, I decided to write about my favorite painter, Caravaggio (with many tied for second place). I wanted to give a short biography of his life and works to segue and flow into my humorous and very sweet memory of my direct acquaintance with three of his many famous works.

I can remember reading about Caravaggio when I was in the fifth grade. My fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Skiles, not one of my favorite teachers, did comment on Caravaggio's great skills. The painting(s) that we looked at now alludes me but it was impressive enough for me to go home and study more about him in one of my own art books. I was drawn to the way he "illuminated" his paintings, a technique called chiaroscuro. More on that later. I liked Caravaggio and was drawn to him but my attraction to paintings was moderate at best. I would like to think that at that young age, I was drawn more to the artwork of the "Flintstones" or "Jetsons". I can and will say that my attraction to Caravaggio's style of painting was put on a back burner and would move to a front burner in the not distant future. A seed was planted.

Michaelangelo was born Michaelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio in the Italian town of Caravaggio in 1571. He died in 1610. Until I researched this, I had forgotten how young he was when he died but the impressive quantity of breathless paintings and other works of art, he had produced, is amazing. I wish I still had my original notes I had taken and made when I went to Muskingum but I can thank Chase, Fannie Mae and James Watson, property manager, of Butler, PA, for destroying them. Of course I digress but I will nail them to the wall as many times as I can.

Caravaggio apprenticed with an artist by the name of Peterzano. Peterzano was considered Venetian and a pupil of the artist Titian. One can see the influence in coloring, style and use of half-length figures, a Venetian technique. Half-length figures can be seen utilized in Caravaggio's paintings early on and again later in his life.


Patronage of the artists by the aristocracy, particularly the Popes and Cardinals, was important to the success of most, if not all, artists and Caravaggio learned that early on as Peterzano enjoyed the patronage of Milan's aristocracy. A painting that can be seen to influence Caravaggio was a painting by Campi called "The Visit by Empress Faustina to Saint Catherine in Prison". The use of light and dark foretells Caravaggio's path. I remember reading several times that this style of painting, this lighting in painting, being called theatrical painting. I like to think that means dramatic. It is almost as if a camera's flash went off at the time represented in the painting. It is startling to behold. It is a moment captured, usually an important moment. This is chiaroscuro.

Caravaggio's apprenticeship with Peterzano began at the age of 11. Already by this early age, he had experienced a great deal of trauma and heartbreak. At the age of six, many members of his family, including his influential father, had been killed by the bubonic plague. His mother had already passed away. It is often the traumas of life that influences people, notably artists. The term "tortured artist" comes to mind. In his late teens, he moved to Rome, penniless, and found work...survival... by working for other painters undoubtedly less talented than himself.

Around 1595, Caravaggio came under the patronage of Cardinal Francesco de Monte. This patronage allowed and freed Caravaggio to his natural tendency and capability of being prolific and therefore produce paintings, wonderful detailed paintings, within a few weeks each, not unlike Andy Warhol. It is interesting to note that Caravaggio can be seen to produce paintings that used nude or nearly nude young boys or men. Caravaggio's only known assistant was a young man by the name of Cecco, who appears in some of Caravaggio's paintings. It has been speculated by some that a sexual/lover relationship may have been experienced between the two. Who cares? It may have been fodder for the "Renaissance National Enquirer". Whether it is true or not is immaterial. Whatever the relationship was, it resulted in beautiful artwork. Period!

In 1597, the 26 year old painter was awarded the decoration of the Centari Chapel. This was a very big deal, an honor, prestige... and money. This resulted among other works of art, three spectacular paintings from St. Matthews life: "The Calling of St. Matthew", "St Matthew and The Angel", and "The Martyrdom of St. Matthew". It was around this time that Caravaggio began to make his paintings real - not ideal, by including prostitutes, thieves and beggars he met on the streets in Rome in his paintings, especially biblical paintings. Yes, reality folks. They have been a part of society through all ages and the old and new testaments are no different.

In the "Death of the Virgin Mary", he depicts Mary with a swollen belly and bared legs. It was controversial, criticized and rejected by some but it is the perfect example where an artist thinks "outside the box", pushes the restraints and limits of his time to allow art to progress to a higher plane... a better plane (most of the time). It is my belief that the same people who criticized this type of painting secretly coveted and bought his paintings, not unlike current conservatives who preach against pornography and gay lifestyles and then we later find out they have closets full of pornography and/or live secret gay lives. Some things never change.

Caravaggio was known as someone who experienced dramatic and wild mood swings which resulted in fights, arguments and at least one murder of a Roman pimp by the name of Tomassoni. We'll leave the circumstances to our imaginations as there are many theories. Again, who cares - other than Senor Tomassoni ! One of Caravaggio's paintings that shows this increasing turbulence and resulting realism is his "Resurrection" in which a less than perfect Christ is viewed leaving his tomb.

Caravaggio died on his way to Rome to secure a pardon from the Pope in 1610, which he would have probably received, so esteemed was he as a painter. When scientists studied Caravaggio's remains in 2010, they discovered high levels of lead which could have been what drove him to be erratic and mad at times and his eventual too early death. Fortunately, it never affected his genius. If anything it may have enhanced his genius in giving him a "I don't give a damn" attitude in stretching the bonds of conventional thinking. My theory anyway.

Caravaggio obviously influenced many painters of his time and thereafter. The one that I think is very obvious and was the basis for one of my college papers( a LONG and highly praised paper) is Rembrandt. I include an example of this with Rembrandt's 'Night Watch'. One last tidbit I wish to include in this article about Caravaggio is my comparison of him with the recent movie director, Hitchcock. As Hitchcock instilled himself in at least one scene in all (I think all) of his movies, Caravaggio included himself, usually as an observer, in many of his paintings. In my example here, he is more than an observer. In Picture 9, he is definitely more than an observer! He is an unfortunate participant.

In writing this VERY BRIEF bio of Caravaggio as a precursor to my personal Caravaggio story, I personally, have always enjoyed articles that give me just enough information that fuels my intense curiosity of things and unquenchable thirst to learn and research on my own.

Before I write about my first "face to face" story involving Caravaggio's art work, I need to explain something. It is a story that is so much more enjoyable when I tell it to a friend or a group of friends and can act it out. I will do my best to imbibe this story with the energy and love I relive and express when I literally act it out when I tell it.

When I was at Muskingum college, working on my first degree, I carried a highly stressful class load. I enjoyed it immensely but I felt I needed a mental release or escape. When I took the required art course the first semester of my junior year, it came to the attention of Mr. Palmer, my art professor and head of the art department, that I had an untapped love of art and in his eyes, considerable artistic ability. This, I pretty much knew but I had never formally taken art on in an educational institution.

I took on art courses on top of my already full curriculum and can confidently say, blossomed. I absolutely loved it. To have a minor, I needed a "hands-on" art capability. I could not and can not draw or paint to a great degree. Sculpting?? A chisel??? Me???? Forget it!!! I tried throwing on a wheel and found that it came very natural to me. Art minor here I come or I should say came.

I was given the opportunity to go with a group of students, of about 25, most of whom were not art majors but had a love of art.... or Italian wine. Either way, every single one of them were fun to travel with. The incomparable Mr. Palmer was the yearly shepherd who took and taught a group of students in Italy. He was everything a teacher should be: enthusiastic and passionate about what he taught. He was the perfect art teacher: highly knowledgeable, flamboyant, intelligent and much loved. He was not stereotypical gay but intense, energetic and dramatic. You wanted to learn everything he taught and I/we were always anxious for the next lesson to come forth from him. He was the first openly gay person I had ever encountered though there was no neon sign about him advertising that. What I admired about the students, in reality the campus, is that I never heard once, any disparaging remark about him or his lifestyle which none of us really knew anything about. The important thing is that he was an excellent teacher and loved by all....period.

Someday I will write an article - or several - of my five weeks in Italy. It was by far, along with my ballet classes, one of the best and happiest times of my life. However, I will only, at this time, tell my "Caravaggio story". A hint I will give you is that Mr. Palmer was well aware of my love of Caravaggio.

The payment for the trip was a joint effort of my parents and myself., as it should be. The majority of the students that went were from very wealthy families and were going there to shop and utilize their Visa's and MasterCard's. They wanted to vacation and why not? I wanted to buy a few quality items but experiencing art work I had only seen and studied in text books was my goal and focus.

We landed in Rome on New Years Eve and every day for the entire trip was like New Years Day, a day of celebrating and rejoicing. I will at this juncture, fast forward about five days. It was exciting to experience all the art, architecture, wine(!), people and of course the culture, past and present. The morning of day five we were already entering our umpteenth church to see and experience whatever art work which would be on display.

Mr. Palmer had been cryptic about what we we were going to be seeing. As we approached this church all I really heard in the name of the church, in a group of words, was the word Maria. Let's face it, the vast majority of churches in Italy have the name Maria or Medici incorporated into it.

As we entered the church, I found it an average looking church. It gave nothing away of the approaching surprise. We as a group had had to get up extra early that morning as we were told we had many things to see. Of course that could have been said about every day we were there. All Mr. Palmer had said as we embarked from out hotel was that someone in the group was in for a big surprise. We were all too numb and sleepy to care.

As we walked into the church, Mr. Palmer gave a history of the church and that we would shortly see the artwork the church was famous for housing.. We slowly walked down the center aisle and then turned toward a central alcove on the left. To this day, I cannot believe that I was so unaware of what we were walking towards. I was more focused on a conversation I was having with a girl about a sweater I had decided to buy. I was also looking to my right at the front alter, trying to see how it was designed.

As we gathered in a semi-circle around the alcove, Mr. Palmer stopped talking. You have to picture the way he dressed for our excursions. He was very tall and lanky with expressive hands accentuated with long fingers. He had on a casual and dark type of suit, no necktie, but a scarf wrapped around his neck ever so elegantly. His hair was always combed straight back with the sides perfectly tinged with silver-white. He was very distinguished and proud looking with a Roman nose. He had on a fedora-type hat that had a wide brim stretched out all the way around. It was of some soft material. It was usually cocked a little to one side. The piece de la resistance was his long, black and satin cape with a red/magenta silk lining that flowed around him perfectly especially if he had his silver handled walking stick and strode in long forceful strides. One could see he was not a man to be trifled with.

He began pacing back and forth on the open-end of our semi-circle where there appeared to be three large paintings on each side. I was more focused on his theatrics. He kept looking at me with the slyest of smiles. Sometimes, when he would swing around, he would stop, cock his head back and to the side and give me a look like 'Well, come on with it'. I got a little miffed and looked at him sternly every time he stopped, swung around with his cape flowing about and looking at me. He even winked at me once. Now everyone was looking at me. Someone said to me, "What's going on Peter?" Finally, I even said "What - what?" to Mr. Palmer with exasperation. I was an idiot. It suddenly dawned on me to look at the paintings. I can still feel the electricity that literally transversed through me when I saw Caravaggio's "The Conversion of St. Paul" (Picture 1). Good lord, we were in the Santé Maria Del Popolo.

Mr. Palmer saw my acknowledgement of his "big surprise". Then, he flung his cape up into the air with his right arm and it landed perfectly back and over his left shoulder. His hand continued to skyrocket up, his index finger pointing up as his arm was extended straight up. With that gesture he said quite loudly and joyfully, "AH-HA! - Finally!". There was absolute silence. After a while, someone said, "Peter, you can close your mouth now."

To say I was pleasantly shocked would be a gross understatement. I had fallen in love with that painting years ago and had used it in several papers. It is one thing to study a painting from a book but it's an entirely different "animal" when you see it up front and close. I walked from painting to painting, taking notes and pictures but not uttering a word. Finally Mr. Palmer came over to me, put his arm and cape around me and simply and softly asked, "Happy?" All I could say was "Oh god yes.... and thank you very much." "My distinct pleasure dear boy. You even exceeded my expectations in your reaction so thank You." I tear up every time I relive that morning, that time, that place. I have used this descriptive term before but the moment I saw the brilliance of that painting, one of my favorite paintings, it was orgasmic to say the least.

Of course, we had to leave and I was like a father who has to be pried away from the maternity ward the first time he gets to see his new-born child. We were to see more Caravaggio's, some even more brilliant and as famous but none of them exceeded or surpassed the heights, emotionally, of my first "in my face" Caravaggio - that Caravaggio. I doubt any words I will ever be able to write will ever describe my emotions - wonderful emotions - of that unforgettable day. If 'you' ever meet me face to face, ask me to act it out. I have yet to have a disappointed audience. One sad note. As I wrote in another article, when I lost my home to foreclosure and Chase Bank and Fannie Mae allowed the property manager, James Watson of Butler, PA to steal or destroy my possessions, it sadly included all my notebooks, diaries and countless pictures. Thank goodness they could not steal or destroy my memories.








Sainte Maria Del Popolo - Rome (Italy of course!)

A markerst maria del popolo -
Basilica Parrocchiale Santa Maria del Popolo, Piazza del Popolo, 12, 00187 Roma, Italy
get directions

The End of this Story - Not My Love of the Arts

Of course, we had to leave and I was like a father who has to be pried away from the maternity ward the first time he gets to see his new-born child. We were to see more Caravaggio's, some even more brilliant and as famous but none of them exceeded or surpassed the heights, emotionally, of my first "in my face" Caravaggio - that Caravaggio. I doubt any words I will ever be able to write will ever describe my emotions - wonderful emotions - of that unforgettable day. If 'you' ever meet me face to face, ask me to act it out. I have yet to have a disappointed audience. One sad note. As I wrote in another article, when I lost my home to foreclosure and Chase Bank and Fannie Mae allowed the property manager, James Watson of Butler, PA to steal or destroy my possessions, it sadly included all my notebooks, diaries and countless pictures. Thank goodness they could not steal or destroy my memories.

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    • Peter Grujic profile image
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      Peter Alexander 2 years ago from Pittsburgh

      Israel- you have something interesting every day every minute to report- you are a superior human being!!! Peter!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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      Israel Andalon 2 years ago

      Hello Peter!

      It's the first time I jump into your Hub and I find it really interesting everything you wrote down here about art and Caravaggio!

      I am also a blogger and as you know wanted to be a writer and I know how hard it's sometimes to write some few pharagraphs with interesting info about the things that you like. Keep the good work and visit my blog someday (when I add something interesting)

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