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Michelangelo Merisi

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) was an Italian Renaissance painter, whose large religious works portrayed saints and other biblical figures as ordinary people.

Supper at Emmaus, painted 1601.
Supper at Emmaus, painted 1601.

Though these paintings were controversial in the church, the wealthy purchased them for their drama, their spectacular technical accomplishment, their startling originality, and even their homoeroticism.

From Web Gallery of Art:
"The gospel according to St Luke (24:13-32) tells of the meeting of two apostles with the resurrected Christ. It is only during the meal that his companions recognize him in the way he blesses and breaks the bread. But with that, the vision of Christ vanishes. In the gospel according to St Mark (16:12) he is said to have appeared to them "in an other form" which is why Caravaggio did not paint him with a beard at the age of his crucifixion, but as a youth. The host seems interested but somewhat confused at the surprise and emotion shown by the apostles. The light falling sharply from the top left to illuminate the scene has all the suddenness of the moment of recognition. It captures the climax of the story, the moment at which seeing becomes recognizing. In other words, the lighting in the painting is not merely illumination, but also an allegory. It models the objects, makes them visible to the eye and is at the same time a spiritual portrayal of the revelation, the vision, that will be gone in an instant. Caravaggio has offset the transience of this fleeting moment in the tranquillity of his still life on the table. On the surfaces of the glasses, crockery, bread and fruit, poultry and vine leaves, he unfurls all the sensual magic of textural portrayal in a manner hitherto unprecedented in Italian painting. The realism with which Caravaggio treated even religious subjects - apostles who look like labourers, the plump and slightly feminine figure of Christ - met with the vehement disapproval of the clergy."

The Caravaggisti

"The painters then in Rome were greatly taken by this novelty, and the young ones particularly gathered around him, praised him as the unique imitator of nature, and looked on his work as miracles. They outdid each other in imitating his works, undressing their models and raising their lights." —Giovanni Pietro Bellori, 1672.

It would be hard to overestimate the impact that Caravaggio's innovations had upon painters of his generation and the generations that followed. His gritty realism, his choice of models, his theatrical lighting, his "night paintings" the rich passages of still life, his eye for color

A short list of artists who owe much to his stylistic breakthroughs would have to include Orazio Gentileschi and his daughter Artemisia, Georges de La Tour, Ribera. A group of Catholic artists from Utrecht, the "Utrecht Caravaggisti" travelled to Rome as students in the first years of the 17th century and were profoundly influenced by the work of Caravaggio, as Bellori describes. On their return to the north this trend had a short-lived but intense development in the 1620s among painters like Hendrick ter Brugghen , Gerrit van Honthorst Andries Both (illustration, left) and Dirck van Baburen. In the following generation less intense effects of Caravaggio can be traced even in Rubens, Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Velazquez, who likely saw his work during his various sojourns in Italy.

In modern times, contemporary painters like the Norwegian Odd Nerdrum and the Romanian Tibor Csernus make no secret of their attempts to emulate and update his work. Perhaps no single artist in the entire Western canon, outside of Giotto and Massacio, had so much influence beyond his time.

See also

Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45