Caravaggio's paintings are some of the darkest and bleakest in the history of art.
With fearless determination, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio shocked the world with his distinctive ability to paint violent scenes of sex and death. During his short life, the painter, who inspired many other artists to imitate this style, saw the reality of a cruel world, which he illustrated with oil on canvas. He captured dramatic moments like a modern-day photojournalist. While other painters focused more on traditionally aesthetic figures, like flowers and female anatomy, Caravaggio’s art springs from the grim perspective he had of the world. It was probably due to something related with his early infancy (which we know little about, but we know that he became an orphan at the age of 11) and the day-to-day obstacles he had to face in order to survive. He moved to Rome at the age of 20, and, ironically, found a job painting delicate flowers, but he was later hired to paint religious illustrations that resulted in the famous David and Goliath, The Taking of Christ, and Christ Displaying His Wounds.
The Supper at Emmaus (1601)
The Calling (1599-1600)
Salome with the Head of John the Baptist (1607-10)
The Taking of Christ (1602)
Caravaggio was not only known for his graphic paintings, but also for his skill with the contrasts of shadows and light exposure, also known as chiaroscuro. For example, in The Taking of Christ, we can see how he used shadows and darkness to surround the subjects, whereas his illuminating technique shines from an angle on the characters’ faces and soldiers’ armors. This causes a more dramatic setting, and it draws attention to the figures, while capturing a moment frozen in time.
Ecstasy of St. Francis (1601)
David and Goliath (1605-08)
The Seven Works of Mercy (1606)
Amor Vincit Omnia (1601)
Unfortunately, Caravaggio died before he could explore his art further. He is believed to have suffered from a lethal fever caused by several disputes, provoked by people who inflamed his bad temper – a really bad one. Some say that the artist would tear up his paintings in a rage when someone dared to criticize them. And he even had to leave Rome in 1606 for safety reasons after killing a man in a brawl. His many enemies and conflicts forced him to wear an armor as pajama because he feared that someone would attempt to murder him. It is believed that, when he died, he had several wounds on his body, and experts can see his health deterioration in his paintings, like in Boy Bitten by a Lizard. As a matter of fact, many of his paintings are believed to be self-portraits that show his wounds.
Boy Bitten by a Lizard (1593-94)
Boy with a Basket of Fruit (1593)
Portrait of a Courtesan (1597)
Boy Peeling Fruit (1592-93)
In other paintings, Caravaggio demonstrates his ability to find beauty in everyday objects and situations. For example, in Boy Peeling Fruit, we can see and recognize his ability with chiaroscuro, as well as the detailed techniques used to bring his models to life. It was probably due to these factors that the church commissioned him to paint The Calling and The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew. These gave him recognition and more commissions for other works like The Taking of Christ, which has been hanging at the Jesuit House of Dublin for more than 80 years now. In addition, his religious paintings maintained that realistic depiction he was famous for, and they became controversial for his raw depictions and scandalous models, like the time he used a famous prostitute as a live model to paint the Madonna.
Christ Displaying His Wounds (1625-35)
The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew (1599-1600)
As was mentioned before, he lived only to the age of 38 and died from a lethal fever probably caused by fight wounds. Yet, in the short period he was alive, the artist produced about 90 famous paintings. What is amazing about his life's work is not just the fact that he was a talented painter, or that he became known for violent and graphic religious paintings, but also the fact that he found time to make art while living a dangerous life. Caravaggio was constantly fearing assaults and enemy attacks, and this probably brought him a rush that inspired his paintings and made his temper worse over the years. His grouchy mood can be seen in the overwhelming darkness of his artworks.
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