"Antique Vase"

"Antique Vase"

9 1/2" x 6 3/4", Etching 11187

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610)

Michelangelo Merisi (Michele Angelo Merigi or Amerighi) da Caravaggio was an Italian painter active in Rome for most of his artistic life. He lived a chaotic life, and caused controversy wherever he went. He lived in Rome until the last four years of his life when he moved between Naples, Malta, and Sicily. His paintings are cerebral and reflected upon the human state, both physically and emotionally. He was known for using dramatic  lighting, which had a formative influence on Baroque painting.


He was born on September 28, 1573 in the town of Caravaggio, near Milan.  On the death of his father, a steward and perhaps architect for a local nobleman, he was apprenticed for a period of four years to Simone Paterzano, a mediocre Milanese painter who had studied with Titian. Feeling he had grown out of the city, he left Milan for Rome around 1592.


Caravaggio employed close physical observation with a dramatic use of chiaroscuro that came to be known as tenebrism. He made the technique a dominant stylistic element, darkening shadows and transfixing subjects in bright shafts of light. Caravaggio vividly expressed crucial moments and scenes, often featuring violent struggles, torture, and death. His work reflected his personality- chaotic and dark. But unlike many self-destructive artists, Caravaggio managed to keep his life and his work in two separate compartments.  Despite his irregular habits, he finished his commissions promptly in an age when procrastination was the norm. He worked rapidly, with live models, preferring to forgo drawings and work directly onto the canvas.


 His influence on the new Baroque style that emerged from Mannerism was profound. It can be seen directly or indirectly in the work of Peter Paul Rubens, Jusepe de Ribera, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, and Rembrandt, and artists in the following generation heavily under his influence were called the "Caravaggisti" (or "Caravagesques"), as well as tenebrists or tenebrosi ("shadowists").


No Italian painter less resembled the Renaissance idea of the gentleman genius than Caravaggio.  He was in some ways the first bohemian artist. Defamation, rent arrears, carrying an unlicensed sword, the lawsuits piled up until in 1606 Caravaggio murdered a man by knifing him in the groin over a game of tennis and was banished from Rome. He moved to Naples where he once again established himself as a prominent painter. He traveled in 1607 to Malta and on to Sicily, and pursued a papal pardon for his sentence. Unfortunately he was not done with tumult. In 1609 he returned to Naples, where he was involved in a violent clash; his face was disfigured and rumours of his death circulated. Questions about his mental state arose from his erratic and bizarre behavior.

 Only a year later, he died in 1610 under uncertain circumstances while on his way from Naples to Rome. Reports stated that he died of a fever or malaria, but suggestions have been made that he was murdered or that he died of lead poisoning.


Caravaggio's innovations inspired Baroque painting, but the Baroque incorporated the drama of his chiaroscuro without the psychological realism. The style evolved and fashions changed, and Caravaggio fell out of favor. In the 20th century interest in his work revived, and his importance to the development of Western art was reevaluated. 


Biography adapted from multiple sources.