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Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio

A portrait of the Italian painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio - Ottavio Leoni

Born: 29 September 1571; Milan, Italy

Died: 18 July 1610; Porto Ercole, Italy

Active Years: 1593 - 1610

Field: painting

Nationality: Italian

Art Movement: Baroque

Caravaggio was a master Italian painter, father of the Baroque style, who led a tumultuous life that was cut short his by his fighting and brawling. As a child and art student, he trained in Milan under a teacher who had been taught by the great Italian painter Titian himself, and who exposed him to the great works of Leonardo de Vinci and the Lombard artists. He moved to Rome in 1592, after certain quarrels resulted in the wounding of a police officer. Rome at the time was in a period if great expansion, and the many churches and palaces being built were all in need of paintings to decorate the walls. Caravaggio also moved to Rome during the Counter-Reformation, in which the Roman Catholic Church tried to stem the rising tide of Protestantism, and was commissioning many works to elevate the social status of the Church.

He arrived in Rome starving and destitute, and immediately began working for Giuseppe Cesari, the favorite painter of the Pope, and throughout the end of the 16th century his reputation as a great painter grew. His big break came in 1599, when he was commissioned to pain the Contarelli Chapel in Rome, which was finished in 1600. after which he began receiving many commissions, both public and private. Some of his works, being controversial in subject matter (his unacceptably vulgar realistic style) and models (one of his favorite models for the Virgin Mary was a prostitute), and some of his works were returned to be painted over or fixed. Others were returned entirely, but Caravaggio always had a public willing to snatch up any painting he produced.

As a street brawler, his police records and court proceedings fill many pages. In 1606, he killed a young man in a street fight and fled to Naples, where he was protected by the Colonna family. In 1608, he was arrested and put in jail for another brawl in Naples, but he managed to escape. In his flight from the law, he traveled through Milan, Syracuse, Sicily, Palermo, Malta, and Messina, continually receiving commissions. He returned to Naples to live with the Colonna family and seek a pardon from the Pope, and in 1606, an assassination attempt was made of his life, leaving his face permanently disfigured.

In the summer of 1610, he took a boat from Naples to Rome, along with three paintings as an offering of peace, seeking a pardon from the Pope. He never arrived at his destination, having mysteriously died along the way. Although his artistic technique fathered the Baroque style, he was quickly forgotten after his death. It was not until the 1920’s that his body of work began to be fully received and appreciated.

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