Summary of Caravaggio
The intensity of Caravaggio's paintings was matched only by his tempestuous lifestyle. Despite being a hot-headed, violent man often in trouble with the law and implicated in more than one murder, he created striking, innovative paintings and pioneered the use of dramatic lighting and the representation of religious figures in modern clothes and attitudes. Working from life and without the aid of preparatory sketches, Caravaggio paired close observation of his models with the use of strong beams of light to focus attention on certain elements of his images, contrasting these well-lit areas with dark shadows elsewhere on the canvas. This use of chiaroscuro became a core part of Caravaggio's highly individualized style and was widely imitated by his contemporaries. Even though he only lived until the age of 39, Caravaggio had a profound influence on the painters around him and on later art movements, notably Baroque art and 19th-century Realism.
- Caravaggio's populist portrayals of religious figures were groundbreaking, showing biblical characters in a non-idealized fashion through the addition of signs of age and poverty and the use of contemporary clothing. This served to humanize the divine, making them more accessible to the average viewer. In doing this, Caravaggio's work represented a type of spiritual populism. The bare, dirty feet of Caravaggio's figures united the artist's works with church teachings which emphasized the poverty of Christ and were also consistent with calls for a simplicity in religious art following the Council of Trent (1545-1563). Despite this alignment with current dogma, these portrayals drew some of Caravaggio's harshest criticism.
- Whilst the technique of chiaroscuro was not introduced by Caravaggio, he was the first painter to incorporate the technique as a dominant stylistic element, making the shadows darker and using clearly defined rays of light for emphasis and to highlight the narrative of the image. The style became increasingly prevalent in his later work and has subsequently become synonymous with his more mature images.
- As far as records show, Caravaggio never married and had no children. This alongside his many sensual portrayals of young men (in conjunction with a lack of erotic female characters in his work) has led to a debate surrounding his sexuality and there have been a number of contemporary homoerotic readings of his work.
Biography of Caravaggio
By the age of 21, Caravaggio had lost his entire family to the bubonic plague, and throughout his life his extremely violent temper got him into heaps of trouble, forcing him to flee from city to city; nevertheless, his highly dramatic personal life didn’t stop him from becoming a preeminent Italian master of highly dramatic art.