Caravaggio is a town in the north of Italy, close to Milan.
It is here that a boy called Michelangelo Merisi grew up.
Later, the boy became a famous artist known as Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, with the last two words meaning 'from Caravaggio.'
Eventually, this long name became a simple, short version:- Caravaggio. That is to say, just the name of the town.
Michelangelo Merisi was born in Milan in 1571. His father was called Fermo and his mother was Lucia.
They were well-to-do.
In 1576, the family moved to the town of Caravaggio to escape a terrible outbreak of la peste (the plague). Unfortunately, even though they were living away from the dreadful sickness in Milan, the plague reached the town of Caravaggio and killed Michelangelo's father and grandparents.
In 1584, Michelangelo Merisi began to train as an artist in the Milan area. But, he fled to Rome in 1592 after a quarrel. Very soon, he was painting in a particular style:- fruit and flowers. Below is one of the paintings from his initial period in Rome.
Painting above called: Fanciullo con canestra di frutta.
Caravaggio produced this oil painting between 1593 and 1594. It can be seen in the Galleria Borghese, Rome. The boy in the painting is
Mario Minniti and he was also an artist and a friend of Caravaggio.
Source of image: The Yorck Project, Wikimedia Commons.
The fruit painted by Caravaggio looks very beautiful, but when you look at it closely, you can see that he has painted it very realistically with blemishes and imperfections. Just like real fruit!
A close-up view of some fruit with blemishes, painted by Caravaggio.
Another style of Caravaggio's painting is very interesting because he portrays people being dishonest and cheating. Below is a very famous painting called 'The fortune teller'. If you look carefully, you will see that the gypsy girl is stealing the ring from the young man's finger whilst pretending to read his palm.
Painting called 'La Buona Ventura', 1593-1594. Visible at Musei Capitolini, Rome. Caravaggio's friend Mario Minniti is the young man in the painting. Source of image: Wikimedia Commons.
The painting below dipicts a card game where there is some cheating taking place. It was painted around 1594 and can be seen in the Kimbell Art Museum, Texas.
(Source: Wikimedia Commons.)
Caravaggio is known for how real the people seem in his paintings. He used models who were often friends and acquaintances so that he would not have to pay for an expensive model. Sometimes, you will see the same person
in several paintings.
An interesting fact:- Sometimes, Caravaggio decided to place his own image in a painting! If you look carefully, in some paintings you will see his face amongst the other characters! In the painting below, the bearded man standing behind Saint Ursula is in fact Caravaggio!
(The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula, 1610. This painting can be seen in La Galleria di Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano, Naples.)
Another interesting fact:- Caravaggio signed only one of his paintings and that was 'La Decollazione di San Giovanni Battista.' (The Beheading of Saint John The Baptist.)
Usually, the characters in Caravaggio's paintings are moving and doing things. They are not simply posing. Every painting is telling a story or is part of an event. If you observe carefully, you will see lots of interesting, little details every time you look.
Caravaggio painted many Christian paintings. Once again, the Biblical characters seemed like real people. They did not seem distant or false.
Below is a Christian painting of Mary Magdalene.
She is thoughtful and sorry. Her jewels are on the floor. She has just washed her hair.
Her clothes are made from fine materials.
Maddalena Penitente, 1594-1595,
visible at La Galleria Doria Pamphilj in Rome.
In the painting above, there is a big shadow of darkness in the background. The girl seems natural, rather than an important person from the Bible, and you really do wonder what she is thinking. With her wet hair, sorry expression and jewellery not yet put on, it seems that someone has taken a snapshot when she wasn't expecting it.
The dramatic use of shadow and light is called 'chiaroscuro.'
In Italian, chiaro = light, scuro = dark.
Some people criticised Caravaggio for painting saints and Biblical characters in such a realistic and normal, human way. But many people loved this new style. Caravaggio earned the nickname 'the most famous painter in Rome.'
Painting above: San Giovanni Battista -
Saint John The Baptist. This painting is kept in Il Palazzo Corsini, Roma.
Above, John The Baptist is portrayed in a very relaxed and informal way. He looks like a young man who is resting after a hard day's work. There is strong contrast between darkness and light, known as chiaroscuro.
In 1606, after being involved in a fight where a man was killed, Caravaggio fled from Rome to Naples, then to Malta and then to Sicily where he stayed with his artist friend, Mario Minniti.
During this period of travel, he continued to paint.
Whilst the artist stayed in the city of Siracusa in Sicily, he produced a famous painting called 'The Burial of Saint Lucy.' In Italian it is called Il Seppellimento di Santa Lucia. This painting was very important for the people of the city, and it remains very important even today!
Why is it so important?
It is important because Saint Lucy, Santa Lucia, was from Siracusa and she is the patron saint of the city.
The painting hangs above the altar of the Church of Saint Lucy, La Chiesa di Santa Lucia, in Siracusa.
It was a wonderful gift to the city.
Painted in 1608 - 1609
In 1610, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio died whilst travelling back to Rome. He had received permission to return after years of exile. He probably died from a fever. He was only thirty-nine years old.
Today he is remembered as the first great painter of the Baroque style.
Below is a photo of the front and back of an old Italian banknote in Lire. You can see the portrait of Caravaggio and some of his famous paintings.
Grazie, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio! Thank you for all your wonderful art!