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Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio
(September 28, 1573 - July 18, 1610) Italy




BacchusProbably the most revolutionary artist of his time, the Italian painter Caravaggio abandoned the rules that had guided a century of artists before him. They had idealized the human and religiousexperience. Originally named Michelangelo Merisi, Caravaggio was born in the Lombardy hill town of Caravaggio, from which his professional name is derived. Orphaned at age 11, he was apprenticed to the painter Simone Peterzano of Milan for four years. At some time between 1588 and 1592, Caravaggio went to Rome and worked as an assistant to painters of lesser skill, Giuseppe Cesari, also known as the Cavaliere d'Arpino, for whom he executed fruit and flower pieces (now lost).

About 1595 he began to sell his paintings through a dealer. The dealer brought Caravaggio to the attention of Cardinal Francesco del Monte. musiciansAmong his best-known early works are genre paintings (scenes from everyday life) with young men -- for example, The Musicians (1591?-1592, Metropolitan Museum, New York City) -- which were done for his first important patron, Francesco Cardinal del Monte. Scenes such as the Fortune Teller (1594, versions in the Louvre, Paris, and the Museo Capitolino, Rome) were especially appealing to the artist's followers.

After his early years in Rome Caravaggio devoted himself to religious works and portraits. Probably the most revolutionary artist of his time, he abandoned the rules that had guided a century of artists before him. call of saint MatthewThey had idealized the human and religious experience. His use of models from lower walks of life in religious works was thought irreverent, but his strong chiaroscuro technique, partially illuminating figures against a dark background, was adopted by his contemporaries. Through the cardinal, Caravaggio was commissioned, at age 24, to paint for the church of San Luigi dei Francesi. In its Contarelli Chapel Caravaggio's realistic naturalism first fully appeared in three scenes he created of the life of St. Matthew. The works caused public outcry, however, because of their realistic and dramatic nature.

Despite violent criticism, his reputation increased and Caravaggio began to be envied. He had many encounters with the law during his stay in Rome. NarcissusHe was imprisoned for several assaults and for killing an opponent after a disputed score in a game of court tennis. Caravaggio fled the city and kept moving between hiding places. He reached Naples, probably early in 1607, and painted there for a time, awaiting a pardon by the pope. Here there was a in his painting style. The dark and urgent nature of his paintings at this time must have reflected Caravaggio's desperate state of mind.

Caravaggio was the best exemplar of naturalistic painting in the early 17th century. His use of models from the lower classes of society in his early secular works and later religious compositions appealed to the Counter Reformation taste for realism, simplicity, and piety in art. Equally important is his introduction of dramatic light-and-dark effects -- termed chiaroscuro -- into his works.

satireCaravaggio's personal life was turbulent. He was often arrested and imprisoned. He fled Rome for Naples in 1606 when charged with murder. There he spent several months executing such works as the Flagellation of Christ (San Domenico Maggiore, Naples), which were crucial to the development of naturalism among the artists of that city. Later that year he traveled to Malta, was made a knight, of the Maltese order, and executed one of his few portraits, that of his fellow knight Alof de Wignacourt (1608, Louvre).

Early in 1608 Caravaggio went to Malta and was received as a celebrated artist. In October of 1608, Caravaggio was again arrested and, escaping from a Maltese jail, went to Syracuse in Sicily. amor omnia vincitWhile in Sicily he painted several monumental canvases, including the Burial of Saint Lucy (1608, Santa Lucia, Syracuse) and the Raising of Lazarus (1609, Museo Nazionale, Messina). These were multi-figured compositions of great drama achieved through dark tonalities and selective use of lighting. Fearful of pursuit, he continued to flee for two more years, but his paintings of this time were among the greatest of his career.

After receiving a pardon from the pope, he was wrongfully arrested and imprisoned for two days. A boat that was to take him to Rome left without him, taking his belongings. Misfortune, exhaustion, and illness overtook him as he helplessly watched the boat depart. He collapsed on the beach and died a few days later.


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