The Art of Caravaggio
The artist known as Caravaggio (1571-1610) was named Michelangelo Merisi at birth and got his well-known name from his pace of birth near the Italian city of Milan. He created many famous paintings of beautiful art. According to his biography he led a violent, controversial life and is said to have murdered a man.
The popular style of painting at the time was the idealization of the subject instead of the realistic style that he used, which he is now revered.
The art world was changing and many other artists followed his realistic style painting. In his time he was well known and influential. They used a dramatic light and shadow as he did. This style became adopted in the Netherlands where he evidently influenced Rembrandt too. Even so, the French and Italian academies had critics that considered his work “the downfall of painting.” Apparently he was not well liked by biographers either in the 1600s because they criticized the portraits of his subjects as “dark and idealized.”
One thing about his subject matter that interested me was his use of a fresh fruit basket. A still life painting of just that fruit would be an excellent artwork on its own. His twist on the subject matter is the use and depiction of slightly bruised fruit. He was a realist’s realist and he did an excellent job of replicating the fruit and even all its imperfections in amazing detail. I figure it took him a long time to paint the fruit and while it may have started fresh when he made the setting, it began to rot before he could finish. He made the best of it by painting what he saw as he went along.
Violent Subject Matter
I’ve seen the Caravaggio painting The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist on display in Malta and it was large as is many of his other works. It is gigantic, because it measures over 11x17 feet. Apparently he was not a shy guy based on the size and colors of his art. For example his painting Death of a Virgin now in the Louvre measures 396 x 245 cm (over 8x10 feet) and this too was not unusual for him. The size of his paintings was not the only thing that called attention. His use of subject matter was often as violent and controversial as his personal life.
How did Caravaggio die?
The exact circumstances of his death are not certain but there are undisputed facts leading toward his demise. Most of his adult life was on the run from authorities or enemies because of his violent life style. In 1610 he was living in Naples, Italy and completed his last paintings and other artwork while trying to obtain a pardon to clear his name through influential friends in Rome. That summer he traveled north from Naples by boat on his way to Rome. From that point the details are not clear. He is believed to have died of a fever in a port city, probably in Tuscany. The Tuscan ports are all north of Rome so it is unclear if he attempted to take a longer route to throw off his enemies. No body was ever found and official records are inconclusive as to the place and exact date. He was never seen or heard from after August 1610.
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