Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, (29 September 157118 July 1610) was an Italian artist active in Rome, Naples, Malta and Sicily between 1593 and 1610. His intensely emotional realism and dramatic use of lighting had a formative influence on the Baroque school of painting.
Caravaggio trained under the Master Titian in Milan. He rose to prominence with his pictures of St Matthew.
St Matthew Commission
In 1599, Caravaggio was contracted to paint suitable pictures for the Contarelli Chapel in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi.
His two works making up the commission, were the Martyrdom of Saint Matthew, the Calling of Saint Matthew and the Inspiration of St Matthew.
The Chapel was quite dark, so Caravaggio made use of these dark shadows to highlight the characters who shone with an almost divine light. There were very well received and cemented Caravaggio’s fame as one of the greatest artists of his generation.
The Calling of St Matthew
Although an exceptional painter, he developed a wild reputation and would often get involved in drunken brawls. In 1606, he killed a young man and fled Rome with the law chasing him.
Caravaggio is often referred to as the father of modern painting. He was a key artist in shifting art from the rather dry mannerism to the new Baroque style which influence the Renaissance period. Caravaggio made important developments in the use of chiaroscuro – light and shadows.
Caravaggio’s style was to paint his subjects as close as possible to how he viewed them. This avoided the idealised view of how people should look, but, by conveying the truth his paintings managed to convey a deep emotion and spirituality. At times his ‘naturalism’ was too much for his patrons. It was felt his depiction of religious figures sometimes bordered on the ‘vulgar’. But, for a time in the early 1600s Caravaggio was the most famous and sought after artist in Rome.