Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio

glenn (yourartdude)
8 min readFeb 16, 2023

Caravaggio was born September 29, 1571 and died July 18, 1610 and was born near the town of Caravaggio in Lombardy, Italy, which is why he took the name Caravaggio as his surname. The town of Caravaggio, Italy is near Milan. The town of Caravaggio, however, is not named after the artist, but rather the other way around. Caravaggio is known by only his last name because in the Renaissance period, it was common for artists to be referred to by only their surname, particularly in Italy. This was a way to distinguish them from other individuals with the same first name and was also a sign of the artist’s professional status. The custom of using only a surname in reference to an artist was established in the workshop culture of the time, where artists were known by the name of their birthplace or family name. Caravaggio’s unique style and innovative techniques solidified his reputation as one of the most important artists of the Baroque period, and his surname has become synonymous with his work.

It is important to note that much of our understanding from 400 years ago is based on historical documents and what was being written at the time, whether out of gossip or scholarly research. The custom of Artists signing their name to their work was a recent development because Painting and Sculpture were still being distinguished as belonging to the Liberal Arts and no longer being considered a craft or associated with the craftsmanship guilds. It is also important to note that Caravaggio lived during the Renaissance, and many aspects of his life and personality are not well documented. There is little information about his personal life or relationships, and many aspects of his biography remain the subject of speculation and debate.

Caravaggio was an Italian Baroque master known for his dramatic, naturalistic style and innovative use of light and shadow. He was a pioneer of the Tenebrism technique, which emphasized the contrast between light and dark to create a sense of drama. He often painted religious and mythological subjects, but with a realism and emotional intensity that was groundbreaking for his time. Caravaggio’s work had a profound influence on the development of Baroque art, and his legacy continues to be felt in the art world today.

Chiaroscuro is another term associated with Caravaggio and is an Italian term that refers to the use of strong contrasts between light and dark to create a sense of volume and depth in a painting or drawing. It is a key aspect of Baroque and Renaissance art and is often associated with Caravaggio, who was a pioneer in the use of this technique. Chiaroscuro is achieved by carefully controlling the placement of light and shadow, and can create a dramatic, theatrical effect in a work of art. It is often used to create the illusion of three-dimensional forms, and to emphasize the mood or atmosphere of a scene.

Chiaroscuro and Tenebrism are both techniques that deal with the use of light and shadow in art. Chiaroscuro refers to the use of gradual transitions of light and dark to create a sense of volume and depth in a painting or drawing. It was a common technique in Renaissance and Baroque art and is often associated with artists such as Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt.

Tenebrism, on the other hand, is a more extreme form of Chiaroscuro, characterized by the use of very pronounced contrasts between light and dark. It was developed and popularized by Caravaggio and other Baroque artists, and is characterized by dramatic contrasts of light and dark, which create a sense of drama and tension in a work of art.

In summary, Chiaroscuro refers to the general use of light and shadow to create depth and volume, while Tenebrism refers to a specific style of Chiaroscuro that uses pronounced contrasts between light and dark to create a dramatic effect.

Caravaggio was often referred to as a “bad boy” due to his tumultuous and controversial personal life. He was known to have a fiery temper and was involved in numerous physical altercations and crimes, including brawls, assaults, and even murder. He was often in trouble with the law and lived a wild, bohemian lifestyle. This notoriety, combined with his revolutionary artistic style, cemented his reputation as a rebellious figure in the history of art.

His primary Patron was Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte. Cardinal del Monte was a powerful and influential patron of the arts in Rome during Caravaggio’s time. He was one of the first collectors to recognize Caravaggio’s talent and he commissioned several works from the artist, including “The Cardsharps” and “The Musicians”. Del Monte was instrumental in introducing Caravaggio to other important patrons and collectors in Rome, and helped to establish his reputation as one of the most innovative artists of the period. He also allowed Caravaggio to live in his palatial home which was customary at the time and a pivotal aspect of the relationship between Artists and Patrons.

In addition to his role as a patron, Del Monte was also a close friend and mentor to Caravaggio. He provided him with support and encouragement during a time when the artist was often in trouble with the law, and he may have even helped to protect Caravaggio from the authorities. Del Monte was a connoisseur of art and literature, and he likely influenced Caravaggio’s artistic development by introducing him to the works of classical and contemporary masters.

Overall, Cardinal del Monte played a significant role in Caravaggio’s life and career, and his support and influence helped to establish Caravaggio as one of the most important artists of the Baroque period.

Caravaggio’s painting “Amor Vincit Omnia” was controversial due to the ambiguousness of the subject matter and some have speculated the model was Francesco Boneri sometimes known as Ceccho Caravaggio (Caravaggio’s Ceccho) whom some have suggested may have been a Castrati who were Vatican choir boys. The same model was probably used to paint “David with the head of Goliath”. Cecco was an Italian painter active in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. He was a contemporary of Caravaggio and is sometimes referred to as Cecco del Caravaggio, suggesting that he was associated with the Caravaggio school of painting. However, Cecco is not known to have been a direct pupil of Caravaggio and more importantly, there is limited information available about his life and work.

It is important to note that there were several artists active during this time who were associated with the Caravaggio school of painting and used variations of the name “Caravaggio” in their work. Other Caravaggisti are known such as Bartolomeo Manfredi. The exact relationship between these artists and Caravaggio is also not well understood, and further research is needed to clarify the connection between these figures and their respective works but not the focus of this discussion.

What is known about Cecco is that he was active in Rome during the height of Caravaggism and that he produced works in a similar style, characterized by dramatic contrasts of light and dark and a naturalistic approach to representation. Some art historians have suggested that Cecco was influenced by Caravaggio’s work, while others have pointed out differences in technique and style. Some think Ceccho may have been Caravaggio’s servant or a pupil. Cecchio reportedly lived with Caravaggio and travelled with him when Caravaggio left Rome.

Overall, Cecco is considered a minor figure in the Baroque period, and his work is not as well known or widely studied as that of Caravaggio because none of his work is signed or dated.

It is important to note that Caravaggio often used members of his social circle, including fellow artists and street people, as models for his paintings. Cardinal del Monte often hosted artists and musicians through his patronage and Caravaggio probably socialized with them in the Cardinal’s home. Caravaggio was known for his innovative use of light and shadow, and for his ability to capture the likenesses of his subjects with a high degree of realism. As a result, the identity of the model in “Amor Vincit Omnia” may never be definitively confirmed.

There is also no record of Caravaggio ever marrying or having children. He lived a tumultuous life marked by frequent legal troubles, brawls, and periods of exile. Despite his artistic success, Caravaggio was known for his volatile temper and frequently found himself in trouble with the law. He lived a nomadic lifestyle, traveling from city to city and seeking refuge with various patrons and friends. As a result, there is very little information available about his personal life, and it is simply not known if he ever had a wife or children.

Caravaggio left Rome in 1606 after killing a man in a brawl. Caravaggio was involved in a dispute with Ranuccio Tommasoni that resulted in Tommasoni’s death. The exact details of the incident involving Caravaggio and Tommasoni are not well documented, and there is no reliable evidence to support the claim that Caravaggio castrated Tommasoni as some have claimed. Claims have been made the argument was over Fillide Melandroni who was a model for Caravaggio, and her portrait appears in several of his works, including “Penitent Magdalene” and “The Triumph of Bacchus.” However, the exact nature of their relationship is not well documented, and it is not clear whether they were romantically involved.

It is important to note that the claim that Caravaggio castrated Tommasoni is a legend that has arisen over time and is not supported by any credible historical evidence. This claim is often mentioned in discussions of Caravaggio’s life and legacy, but it is considered to be more of a cultural myth than a factual occurrence.

Caravaggio was known for his volatile temper and was involved in several altercations during his lifetime. The exact circumstances of the altercation with Tommasoni are not well documented, but it is believed that it was a physical altercation that resulted in Tommasoni’s death. Tommasoni was from a prominent family who demanded justice for his death and Caravaggio’s powerful Patrons and friends were unable to protect him.

As a result of the incident, Caravaggio was forced to flee Rome and go into hiding. He was sentenced to death in absentia and had to flee the city to avoid arrest. He went into hiding and moved from place to place including Naples, Malta and Sicily, eventually ending up in Naples, where he continued to paint. Despite his exile, Caravaggio’s fame continued to grow, and his works were highly sought after by collectors and patrons throughout Europe. He spent the next several years traveling throughout Italy, painting and seeking pardon for his crime. Eventually, he was able to secure a pardon from the Pope and return to Rome, but he died soon after, in 1610, at the age of 39. The exact circumstances of his death are unclear, but it is believed that he died from either illness or as a result of a violent altercation.

Caravaggio reportedly died while traveling to Rome to receive his pardon from the Pope and there are Vatican documents which support the theory that the Tomassoni family had Caravaggio hunted down and killed for a vendetta over Ranuccio’s murder but Caravaggio had other enemies and there exists a death notice stating Caravaggio died of a fever.

While there is a great deal of drama surrounding the Art and the personal life of Caravaggio, the passage of time contributes to the legend of this great Artist. Caravaggio has always been one of my Heroes.

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