Caravaggio was born in a town that shares his name in a region of Italy known as Lombardy. He was born during the Counter-Reformation which had the Catholic Church constructing massive efforts to regroup after the Protestant Reformation where many members converted. This political state had a very large influence on the artist’s development both personally and artistically.  After the death of his father and most of his family when he was just six years old, he entered a constant struggle with poverty. All of these hardships as a young boy seemed to influence his angry, aggressive, and controversial tendencies that seemed to define his personality as a young man. He spent many years on the streets in utter poverty, painting for the open market. However, whatever the struggle, he continued to paint. Much of these emotional struggles were projected in his art. At age 13, he was apprenticed to Milanese artist Peterzano, who guided him in his study of the basics. He instructed Caravaggio on preparing pigments, mixing colors, and the fundamentals of drawing, anatomy, and perspective. The naturalism that marked Caravaggio’s style was presumably rooted in this apprenticeship.  The naturalist trend in the art of the Lombardy region seems to reflect what Caravaggio learned as a young man through Peterzano; a large part of that putting an emphasis on the study of nature.

Caravaggio then moved to Rome in 1592, where he spent his first years in poverty. At this same time, his career got a push in the right direction when Cardinal del Monte, an influential art lover, took him in and became his first steady patron.  Through this partnership Carrvaggio was given the opportunity to paint three visions in the Contarelli chapel in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi. This shows how the Counter-Reformation (where the church was trying to revamp their churches in order to bring in members) influenced Caravaggio’s career at this time. This was his first major public commission that put him on the map. The scenes he painted from the life of Saint Matthew (“St. Matthew and the Angel”, “the calling of Saint Matthew”, and “The Matrydom of Saint Matthew), were not what the public expected, however. They consisted of a more naturalisic style rather than the worshipful depictions the public had become accustomed to. His works were darker, dramatic, and contained a high contrast between dark and light.  This attracted substantial public attention but also critical outcry. His first version of “St. Matthew and the Angel” caused so much angst among his patrons that he had to redo it. However, the commission provided a new direction for his work; a direction that could lift the traditional religious scenes and portray them in his own, darker, more humanistic interpretation.  His art was then populated with the type of crowd he encountered on the streets of Rome; filled with beggars, prostitutes and thieves. This project also provided Caravaggio with an affluence of exposure and work.  His paintings from the next year included “The Crucifixion of St. Peter,” “The Conversion of St. Paul,” “The Deposition of Christ,” and his famous “Death of the Virgin Mary.”

Caravaggio had his fair share of virulent critics and enemies. Socially, he was rude, violent, and belligerent. But, artistically he was daring and tested the classical rules of art. This ability to depict religious scenes with a unique approachability portraying the most human of feelings provided inspiration for artists throughout the ages, including such masters as Rubens, Velasquez and Rembrandt as well as setting the tone for high the drama of the Italian Baroque.

Caravaggio was never freed from his rage, however. In 1606, he had to flee Rome with a price on his head after committing a murder that resulted from a brawl. During this time his constant fear and personal drama that followed him while he fled was reflected in his work where his paintings became increasingly dark and filled with despair.  His religious subjects and portraits were grim and unsettling. He ended up dying at Port’Ercole on July 18, 1610.

Amie Rippeteau

Caravaggio

Caravaggio was born in a town that shares his name in a region of Italy known as Lombardy. He was born during the Counter-Reformation which had the Catholic Church constructing massive efforts to regroup after the Protestant Reformation where many members converted. This political state had a very large influence on the artist’s development both personally and artistically.  After the death of his father and most of his family when he was just six years old, he entered a constant struggle with poverty. All of these hardships as a young boy seemed to influence his angry, aggressive, and controversial tendencies that seemed to define his personality as a young man. He spent many years on the streets in utter poverty, painting for the open market. However, whatever the struggle, he continued to paint. Much of these emotional struggles were projected in his art. At age 13, he was apprenticed to Milanese artist Peterzano, who guided him in his study of the basics. He instructed Caravaggio on preparing pigments, mixing colors, and the fundamentals of drawing, anatomy, and perspective. The naturalism that marked Caravaggio’s style was presumably rooted in this apprenticeship.  The naturalist trend in the art of the Lombardy region seems to reflect what Caravaggio learned as a young man through Peterzano; a large part of that putting an emphasis on the study of nature.

Caravaggio then moved to Rome in 1592, where he spent his first years in poverty. At this same time, his career got a push in the right direction when Cardinal del Monte, an influential art lover, took him in and became his first steady patron.  Through this partnership Carrvaggio was given the opportunity to paint three visions in the Contarelli chapel in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi. This shows how the Counter-Reformation (where the church was trying to revamp their churches in order to bring in members) influenced Caravaggio’s career at this time. This was his first major public commission that put him on the map. The scenes he painted from the life of Saint Matthew (“St. Matthew and the Angel”, “the calling of Saint Matthew”, and “The Matrydom of Saint Matthew), were not what the public expected, however. They consisted of a more naturalisic style rather than the worshipful depictions the public had become accustomed to. His works were darker, dramatic, and contained a high contrast between dark and light.  This attracted substantial public attention but also critical outcry. His first version of “St. Matthew and the Angel” caused so much angst among his patrons that he had to redo it. However, the commission provided a new direction for his work; a direction that could lift the traditional religious scenes and portray them in his own, darker, more humanistic interpretation.  His art was then populated with the type of crowd he encountered on the streets of Rome; filled with beggars, prostitutes and thieves. This project also provided Caravaggio with an affluence of exposure and work.  His paintings from the next year included “The Crucifixion of St. Peter,” “The Conversion of St. Paul,” “The Deposition of Christ,” and his famous “Death of the Virgin Mary.”

Caravaggio had his fair share of virulent critics and enemies. Socially, he was rude, violent, and belligerent. But, artistically he was daring and tested the classical rules of art. This ability to depict religious scenes with a unique approachability portraying the most human of feelings provided inspiration for artists throughout the ages, including such masters as Rubens, Velasquez and Rembrandt as well as setting the tone for high the drama of the Italian Baroque.

Caravaggio was never freed from his rage, however. In 1606, he had to flee Rome with a price on his head after committing a murder that resulted from a brawl. During this time his constant fear and personal drama that followed him while he fled was reflected in his work where his paintings became increasingly dark and filled with despair.  His religious subjects and portraits were grim and unsettling. He ended up dying at Port’Ercole on July 18, 1610.

“Death of the Virgin Mary” oil on canvas, circa 1601-1606

“Death of the Virgin Mary”
oil on canvas,
circa 1601-1606

"The Sacrifice of Isaac”  oil on canvas  circa 1603

“The Sacrifice of Isaac”
oil on canvas
circa 1603

“Medusa” oil on canvas circa 1597,

“Medusa”
oil on canvas
circa 1597

  1. We are looking at a portrait of Medusa (the gorgon who had hair of living snakes) in this painting. The myth is that she was so repulsive that anyone who looked at her was turned to stone. She was eventually decapitated by Perseus, as the story goes. Caravaggio’s model is a male youth, which I feel means something significant when connecting this work to his own life and self. The portrait shows him/her in the very moment of self-recognition. The eyes are fixed perpetually on the realization of who he/she really is. As the painting shows only a head, it may be signifying a shift from reality; showing a disconnection to his/her surroundings. Obviously it is referencing his/her decapitation but has much more of a rooted meaning in his/her awareness of isolation. Decapitation is a recurrent image in Caravaggio’s paintings: “Judith Beheading Holofernes,” The Beheading of St John the Baptist,” and “Salome Receives the Head of St John the Baptist.”
  2. Caravaggio was characterized by his use of deep contrast between light and dark, which is clearly demonstrated in this piece. It still holds true to his naturalist style being it has accurate proportions and color schemes. The darker, richer colors used and contrasted with the lightness of the skin are often typical of Caravaggio. He shows an intense level of realism in this painting as a result, making the image appear three dimensional.
  3. Caravaggio was a pioneer of the Italian Baroque style which is not widely different from Italian Renaissance painting. However, the color palette was richer and darker and the theme of religion was more popular.  It is painted with oil on canvas which is very characteristic of Italian Renaissance art, but it is smaller in scale than most of the large scale paintings created out of the Italian Renaissance period. With a growth in Humanism at this time. Artists turned to classical themes, fulfilling commissions for the decoration of wealthy patron’s homes (the reason Caravaggio painted this).  The study of light, perspective, nature and anatomy were all important during this time. Caravaggio’s work was very innovative in the way it humanized religious figures; giving them dirt under their fingernails and bare feet. He was known for focusing on the study of nature and trying to move away from being too stylistic.

Bibliography

  1. “Caravaggio Biography.” Bio.com. A&E Networks Television, n.d. Web. 16 Aug. 2013
  2. “Caravaggio.” Artble: The Home of Passionate Art Lovers. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Aug. 2013.
  3. “Caravaggio Paintings – Our Caravaggio Art Reproductions.” Genuine Fine Art Reproduction. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Aug. 2013.
  4. “Medusa, Caravaggio (c 1598).” The Guardian. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Aug. 2013.

The bottom is a painting called “The Sacrifice of Isaac”, oil on canvas, circa 1603, and can be found in the Uffizi gallery in Florence.

The top right painting is called “Medusa”, oil on canvas, circa 1597, and is located in the Uffizi gallery in Florence.

  1. We are looking at a portrait of Medusa (the gorgon who had hair of living snakes) in this painting. The myth is that she was so repulsive that anyone who looked at her was turned to stone. She was eventually decapitated by Perseus, as the story goes. Caravaggio’s model is a male youth, which I feel means something significant when connecting this work to his own life and self. The portrait shows him/her in the very moment of self-recognition. The eyes are fixed perpetually on the realization of who he/she really is. As the painting shows only a head, it may be signifying a shift from reality; showing a disconnection to his/her surroundings. Obviously it is referencing his/her decapitation but has much more of a rooted meaning in his/her awareness of isolation. Decapitation is a recurrent image in Caravaggio’s paintings: “Judith Beheading Holofernes,” The Beheading of St John the Baptist,” and “Salome Receives the Head of St John the Baptist.”
  2. Caravaggio was characterized by his use of deep contrast between light and dark, which is clearly demonstrated in this piece. It still holds true to his naturalist style being it has accurate proportions and color schemes. The darker, richer colors used and contrasted with the lightness of the skin are often typical of Caravaggio. He shows an intense level of realism in this painting as a result, making the image appear three dimensional.
  3. Caravaggio was a pioneer of the Italian Baroque style which is not widely different from Italian Renaissance painting. However, the color palette was richer and darker and the theme of religion was more popular.  It is painted with oil on canvas which is very characteristic of Italian Renaissance art, but it is smaller in scale than most of the large scale paintings created out of the Italian Renaissance period. With a growth in Humanism at this time. Artists turned to classical themes, fulfilling commissions for the decoration of wealthy patron’s homes (the reason Caravaggio painted this).  The study of light, perspective, nature and anatomy were all important during this time. Caravaggio’s work was very innovative in the way it humanized religious figures; giving them dirt under their fingernails and bare feet. He was known for focusing on the study of nature and trying to move away from being too stylistic.

Bibliography

  1. “Caravaggio Biography.” Bio.com. A&E Networks Television, n.d. Web. 16 Aug. 2013
  2. “Caravaggio.” Artble: The Home of Passionate Art Lovers. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Aug. 2013.
  3. “Caravaggio Paintings – Our Caravaggio Art Reproductions.” Genuine Fine Art Reproduction. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Aug. 2013.
  4. “Medusa, Caravaggio (c 1598).” The Guardian. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Aug. 2013.
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