The Caravaggio Biography

Caravaggio Biography

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Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571 - 1610)

Michelangelo Merisi, called later Caravaggio, was born in either Milan, or a town of Caravaggio near Milan, as the son of a ducal architect. His early training started in 1584 under Simone Peterzano, a little known pupil of Titian, and continued till 1588.  

In 1592, Caravaggio went to Rome. His contact with Giuseppe Cesare d’Arpino (1568-1640), the most popular painter and art dealer in Rome at the turn of the century, brought him recognition.  Through the art business Caravaggio met his first patron Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte, who not only held out the possibility of working independently, but also secured for him his first public commission: side paintings in the Contarelli Chapel, San Luigi dei Francesi. For Cardinal’s  Casino dell’Aurora he painted Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto (c.1599-1600).  

From then on he was flooded by public commissions. Yet because of his violent temper he was constantly in trouble with the law. Since 1600, he is regularly mentioned in police records, is constantly under accusations of assault, libel and other crimes. In 1606, he became involved in murder and had to flee, finding refuge on the estates of Prince Marzio Colonna, where he painted Madonna of the Rosary (c.1606-1607).  

On his wanderings he paused in Naples, painting exclusively religious themes: Seven Works of Mercy (1606-1607), The Flagellation of Christ (1607). Not only these, but almost all of Caravaggio’s religious subjects emphasize sadness, suffering, and death.       

In Malta he was housed by the Knights of St. John and painted several portraits of the Grand Master, Alof de Wignacourt. The artistically fertile Maltese period brought him the title of a Knight of St. John of Malta in 1608, but was shortly interrupted by imprisonment for a passionate quarrel with a noble and a renewed flight.  

Going through Syracuse and Messina, where some major late works came into being, The Raising of Lazarus (c.1608-1609) Caravaggio went on to Palermo and from there again to Naples. Here the news of the Pope’s pardon reached him but, on arriving at Porto Escole by ship, he was again arrested, though later released. By then the ship had sailed, carrying away all his possessions. Struck down by a fever, he died without setting foot in Rome again.

Few artists in history have exercised as extraordinary an influence as this tempestuous and short-lived painter. Caravaggio was destined to turn a large part of European art away from the ideal viewpoint of the Renaissance to the concept that simple reality was of primary importance. He was one of the first to paint people as ordinary looking.

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