Biography

Occupation: Painter
Movement: Baroque
FAMOUS ARTWORKS
“Boy with a Basket of Fruit,” 1593
“Young Sick Bacchus,” 1593
“The Fortune Teller,” 1594
“Basket of Fruit,” 1596
“The Lute Player,” 1596
“Medusa,” 1597
“Narcissus,” 1599
“Judith Beheading Holofernes,” 1598-99
“Calling of St. Matthew,” 1600
“Still Life with Flowers and Fruit,” 1601
“Amor Victorious,” 1602
“Entombment,” 1603
“Ecce Homo,” 1605
“David with the Head of Goliath,” 1610
“Martyrdom of Saint Ursula,” 1610
Caravaggio is an Italian painter famous for the realism in his painting, as well as the dramatic intensity of his subjects. Considered one of the greatest painters of all time, Caravaggio’s influence on succeeding generations of painters is immeasurable. He refined the light-and-shadow technique of Chiaroscuro, deepening shadows and illuminating his subjects with what appear to be shafts of light. He lived a controversial and violent life, and his work was polarizing even during his own lifetime. Even though he was forgotten after his death, today Caravaggio is held up as one of the progenitors of Baroque movement, and his paintings are some of the most prized works in the history of art.
Orphan Boy
Caravaggio was born in 1571 in Milan as ‘Michelangelo Merisi’ to Fermo Merixio, the steward to the Marquis of Caravaggio, and Lucia Aratori. When he was five, the family moved to Caravaggio to avoid the plague, but Fermo contracted the disease and died the next year. His mother Lucia died in 1584; by that time, Caravaggio had already fallen in with a group of painters and bravos who instilled in him their motto: ‘without hope, without fear’.  In 1584, he was given to Simone Peterzano in Milan as a painter’s apprentice.
All Roads Lead to Rome
Around 1592, Caravaggio moved to Rome to escape the Milanese law: he had been involved in a fight and wounded a police officer. He arrived in Rome poor and destitute, but was soon working under Giuseppe Cesari in his workshop. Caravaggio didn’t stay in Cesari’s employment for long: in 1593, he suffered from a prolonged illness and Cesari ended their engagement. Caravaggio was determined to forge a name for himself, and his friendships at the time with the painters Prospero Orsi and Mario Minniti gave him access to rich collectors and Papal commissioners. Caravaggio’s work attracted other painters and connoisseurs to him, but he would ultimately have to rely on the Church for patronage and renown.
The Big Break
In 1594, Caravaggio painted ‘The Fortune Teller’ depicting a young man having his palm read, and his ring surreptitiously stolen, by a Gypsy fortuneteller. The painting was immensely popular and Caravaggio painted numerous copies of it for collectors and patrons. One of his patrons became Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte, an influential and renowned connoisseur of painting. Probably due to Del Monte’s influence, Caravaggio was commissioned by the Church in 1599 to paint decorative works for a chapel. Caravaggio finished his paintings ‘The Calling of St. Matthew’ and ‘The Martyrdom of St. Matthew’ in 1600 and almost immediately became the most famous painter in Rome.
Aesthetic War
At the time, the Roman Catholic Church was looking for an aesthetic counterpoint to the grand style of its previous painters as a way to combat Protestant critiques. Through his painting, Caravaggio represented a startling realism in the depiction of his figures and his attention to detail — his figures were not idealized or romanticized, but rather, presented as prosaically as Caravaggio saw his models. He coupled this degree of realism with intensely dramatic situations, framing human frailty within the grand drama of religious experience. Furthermore, his habit of painting directly with oils instead of making drawings first, also set him apart from many of his contemporaries because of his undeniable skill at rendering his subjects. His developing style drew other, younger painters to him and Caravaggio was hailed among his fellows as a visionary. His deepening of the Chiaroscuro technique began to be called ‘tenebrism’ and more and more artists tried to emulate it.
Controversy
However, it was this particular marriage between realism and religious drama that created controversy around his work. Often, his paintings were rejected by patrons because they felt his realism was too vulgar, too suggestive of profane behavior, and more particularly, too prosaic to be holy. He also invited controversy by using well-known prostitutes and courtesans as models for religious figures. Collectors, patrons and fellow artists were also divided over his work: some thought it sublime, while others acknowledged his skill but criticized him for his morals. 
Violent Temper
Caravaggio was notoriously bad-tempered, and infamous for getting into violent fights. In 1606, he was forced to flee Rome after killing a young man in a brawl. Usually, his influential friends kept him out of trouble with the authorities, but in this case there was nothing to be done. Caravaggio ran away to Naples where he sought the protection of the powerful Colonna family to whom he was connected. He received a number of prestigious Papal commissions to paint within the city, but he moved to Malta within the year, seeking the protection of the powerful Knights of Malta. Caravaggio impressed the Grand Master of the order with his work, and was made a knight. In 1608, however, he’d been arrested for attacking a senior knight, and was once again, forced to escape. He first fled to Sicily and reunited with his old companion and model, Mario Minniti. His work from this period is characterized by figures isolated within dark backgrounds: their vulnerabilities exposed and thrown up in sharp relief.
Caravaggio returned to Naples in 1608, once again seeking the protection of the Colonnas after he’d been disfigured during an attack by one of his many enemies. He tried to return to Rome by impressing the nephew of the Pope with his painting, and in 1610, was on his way back to Rome to receive a Papal pardon. However, he died on the road under mysterious circumstances: some reports claim he died of a fever, and some allude to foul play. Caravaggio died in Porto Ercole: he was 39 years old.
TIMELINE
1571  -  Born in Milan
1584  -  Apprenticed to Simone Peterzano
1592  -  Moves to Rome
1606  -  Moves to Naples
1606  -  Moves to Malta
1608  -  Moves to Sicily
1608  -  Returns to Naples
1610  -  Dies in Porto Ercole
MAJOR EXHIBITIONS
2010  -  Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago
2013  -  Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles
2013  -  Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, Rome
2013  -  Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford
2013  -  Siena Cathedral Crypt, Siena
2013  -  Museum of Arts and Crafts, Zagreb
2013  -  National Museum of Fine Arts, Rio de Janeiro
2013  -  The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg
2014  -  Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit
2014  -  Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest
2014  -  Muscarelle Museum of Art, Williamsburg
2014  -  Asia Society Hong Kong Center, Hong Kong
2014  -  Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
2014  -  National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
2015  -  National Museum of China, Beijing
2015  -  The National Gallery of Antique Art, Rome
2015  -  Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis
MUSEUMS / COLLECTIONS
Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco 
Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg
J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna 
Louvre Museum, Paris
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
National Gallery, London
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
The Royal Collection, London
Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland
Galleria Borghese, Rome
Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome
Gallerie di Palazzo Leoni Montanari, Vicenza
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis
Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen, Rouen
Museum Kunst Palast, Düsseldorf
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin
Palazzo Bianco, Genoa
Palazzo degli Alberti, Prato
Palazzo Ruspoli, Rome
San Diego Museum of Art, La Jolla
National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen
The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore
Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid
BOOKS / PUBLICATIONS
“Caravaggio: Complete Works” by Sebastian Schutze
“Caravaggio: Color Library” by Timothy Wilson-Smith
“Caravaggio” by Giles Lambert and Gilles Neret
“Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane” by Andrew Graham-Dixon
“Caravaggio: The Complete Works” by Rossella Vodret
“Caravaggio” by H F Ullmann
“Caravaggio: The Art of Realism” by John Varriano
“Caravaggio” by Giorgio Bonsanti
“Caravaggio: Realism, Rebellion, Reception” by Genevieve Warwick
“Caravaggio: Painter of Miracles” by Francine Prose
“Caravaggio: Reflections and Refractions” by Lorenzo Pericolo and David M. Stone
 
ARTWORKS FOR SALE

Caravaggio

Bacchus

Uffizi Gallery

NEWS

Caravaggio Masterpiece Poured Over by Experts to Confirm Authenticity

By Nathalie Mandel | April 13, 2016

Paris Tableau Goes for Baroque

By Angela M.H. Schuster,Art+Auction | November 6, 2015

Will the Sotheby’s Caravaggio Decision Impact the Practice of Authentication?

By Mostafa Heddaya | January 29, 2015

Marilyn Minter, Betty Tompkins, and Others Gauge George W. Bush's Work

By Scott Indrisek | April 15, 2014

A New Caravaggio Joins the Canon as X-Ray Investigation Vindicates a Disputed Medusa Head

By Kate Deimling,ARTINFO France | February 29, 2012