The English used in this article may not be easy for everybody to understand. (March 2012)
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (28 September 1571 – 18 July 1610) was an Italian artist. He worked in Rome, Naples, Malta and Sicily between 1593 and 1610. He was a painter who did a type of art called Baroque style. He was the first person to be really good at painting this way.
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio
Chalk portrait of Caravaggio by Ottavio Leoni, c. 1621.
|see works by Caravaggio|
Even while he was alive, many people talked about Caravaggio. Some people liked to see what he did, and how he lived, and thought he was a good person. Other people thought he was very strange. Some people thought he was bad. He did not want to fit in, sometimes. He started being a famous painter in Rome in 1600. Many people gave him money to paint pictures for them, but he used all his money and sometimes got into trouble. In 1604 someone wrote a note about him, and said that he was rude and a bad person. This note tells us how he lived, in 1601:
|“||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||”|
—Floris Claes van Dijk,1601
In 1606 he killed a young man in a fight and ran away from Rome. He ran away because Rome said it would give money to people who caught Caravaggio. In Malta in 1608 he got into a fight again. He got into another fight in Naples in 1609, but this fight could have been enemies (people who hated him) trying to kill him. In 1610, after making paintings for more than ten years, he died.
Huge new churches and palazzi were being built in Rome the last years of the 1500s and the first years of the 1600s. These big churches needed paintings to hang on the walls. The Counter-Reformation Catholic Church wanted to find painters who would paint beautiful art about God. They wanted people to like the art so much that they would think Protestantism was ugly and boring, and wouldn't want to start being part of a Protestant church. So the Catholic Church needed a new type of art, because Mannerism had been the most famous type of art for 100 years, and now it was boring. Caravaggio's paintings were new, and different from Mannerism. He painted in a way called naturalism, which means that he painted things how they actually looked. He painted pictures of people so that the people looked real, and he made his pictures look exciting by painting a lot of very dark shadows and very bright lights (which is called chiaroscuro).
While he was alive he was very famous, and many artists wanted to paint like he did. But after he died, most people forgot about him, and didn't care about his paintings. Hundreds of years later, in the 1900s, people looked at his art again, and saw that he had been very important. They saw that many other famous artists had tried to paint like he did. Because so many artists had seen his paintings, and liked how he painted, and tried to paint like he did, he made many artists paint in the Baroque style, too. The Baroque style was very famous for hundreds of years.
- Floris Claes van Dijk, a contemporary of Caravaggio in Rome in 1601, quoted in John Gash, "Caravaggio", p.13. The quotation originates in Carl (or Karel) van Mander's Het Schilder-Boek of 1604, translated in full in Howard Hibbard, "Caravaggio". The first reference to Caravaggio in a contemporary document from Rome is the listing of his name, with that of Prospero Orsi as his partner, as an 'assistente' in a procession in October 1594 in honour of St. Luke (see H. Waga "Vita nota e ignota dei virtuosi al Pantheon" Rome 1992, Appendix I, pp.219 and 220ff). The earliest informative account of his life in the city is a court transcript dated 11 July 1597 where Caravaggio and Prospero Orsi were witnesses to a crime near San Luigi de' Francesi. (See "The earliest account of Caravaggio in Rome" Sandro Corradini and Maurizio Marini, The Burlington Magazine, pp.25-28).
- Quoted in Gilles Lambert, "Caravaggio", p.8.