Caravaggio was an influential yet controversial personality

Although Caravaggio's life was filled with controversy and ill fate, his work became to be recognized as one of the most significant influences in the baroque art movement.

More famously known as Caravaggio, Michelangelo Merisi was an Italian artist and painter who is now widely considered one of the greatest artists of the baroque art period. Throughout his life, Caravaggio was an influential yet controversial personality. Orphaned at the age of 11, he took siege in an apprenticeship with another painter in Milan before moving to Rome, where he experienced popularity and widespread fame for the tenebrism technique he used in his work. Although his career was short-lived compared to his counterparts, his influence is still considered tremendous to the world of history and paintings. 

"Shaky early years"

Caravaggio was born in a time of turmoil in 1571 in Italy. He was born a week before the bloody battle of Lepanto when invaders from Turkey were forced to leave Christendom. Although not much information is present about Caravaggio's early life, it is known that his father, Fermo Merisi, worked as the architect at the marquis of Caravaggio. At the age of 6, Caravaggio suffered through the Bubonic plague, which took the lives of his family members. 

Now orphaned, Caravaggio became street bound and began to reside with a group of swordsmen and painters. At 11, he moved to Milan and began to apprentice under a painter known as Simone Peterzano. It was not long after this in 1588 when Caravaggio, now in his late teens, relocated to Rome where he found work as an assistant to other local painters who, according to critics, were much less talented than he was. However, at the time, his living was unstable and poverty-ridden, so he kept jumping from one job to the next. 

"A start to a prolific future"

In 1595, Caravaggio began the start of his successful career and sold his work through a dealer. His work was so good that it soon caught the eyes of Cardinal Francesco Del Monte, who was so impressed by Caravaggio's talent that he offered him a room and pension in his own home. Amongst his many talents, Caravaggio was known to be quick and precise, often completing paintings within just two weeks of beginning them. By the time he began to work under Del Monte, he already had 40 paintings in his lineup, including his infamous work on "Boy with a Basket of Fruit" and "The Music Party." 

Much of Caravaggio's early works were centered around painting chubby, young boys dressed as angels. He also created work on his favorite saint, John the Baptist. At the time, he worked with his assistant, a boy named Cecco, who also appeared in his paintings and is also rumored to be his lover. 

"The three works of St. Matthew"

In 1597, Caravaggio was summoned to commission three significant works to decorate the Contarelli Chapel in Rome's Church of San Luigi dei Francesi. This assignment was a considerable feat for his career, where he was assigned the task of depicting three scenes from the life of St. Matthew. As a result, Caravaggio presented:

  • St. Matthew and the Angel

  • The Calling of St. Matthew

  • The Martyrdom of St. Matthew

These works were finished in 1601 and depicted the vast and never-ending talent range of Caravaggio. Although these works were a feat in his career, they provoked mixed opinions from the church and much of the public. This was because Caravaggio's approach followed portraying St. Matthews in a far more realistic light. Not only did he receive consternation, but his version for 'St Matthew and the Angel' received so much angst from his patrons that he had to change and re-do the painting. 

This commission changed the direction he had taken for his art, and he began to use his dark interpretations for biblical and traditional religious scenes. With more extraordinary talent and fame came more significant financial relief. His paintings started to gain recognition and his famous works in the next few years included 'The Crucification of St. Peter, The Conversion of St. Paul', and his most recognized 'Death of the Virgin.' This famous painting was packed with Caravaggio's style and enthusiasm so much that it was eventually taken in by the Duke of Mantua. 

"A life of controversy"

Although his life was troubled with controversy and rumors, this only seemed to further Caravaggio's career. However, with growing success, the talented painter encountered grave turmoil in his personal life. His personality was taken over by violence, gambling, drastic behaviors, and love for drinking. In 1603, he went to prison for attacking another painter; however, his temper became worse over time. He was followed with a litany of assaults. 

His violent behavior got the best of him when in 1606, he killed a Roman pimp, who was locally well known as Ranuccio Tomassoni. History has long pondered upon the cause of the crime, including Caravaggio's lust for the pimp's wife; however, little has been found. 

"Fame and fall"

Following the murder, Caravaggio fled Rome and took refuge in multiple places, including Naples, Malta, and Sicily. Although his crime took over his personality and life, fame still followed. Quite surprisingly, in Malta, Caravaggio received the order of malta as a knight of Justice, which was soon taken away as soon as the crime he committed came to knowledge. Caravaggio continued his work on the run. During his time in Naples, he painted the infamous 'Madonna of the Rosary.' In Malta, he created the 'Beheading of St. John the Baptist' for the cathedral in Valetta. From this period, one of the most notable works that Caravaggio spent time on was 'Resurrection' in which he portrayed Jesus Christ in a less saint and more chaotic manner. According to history, this work was inspired entirely from Caravaggio's own life since, by this period, he had become estranged and lived in constant fear of his own life. 

In July of 1608, in Malta, Caravaggio attacked Fra Giovanni Rodomonte, one of the most notable nights in the order of St John. As a result, he was jailed; however, he managed to escape and run. According to history, Roero did not pardon Caravaggio and followed him to Naples, attacking and disfiguring his face. During this time, his brushwork and technique fell, and to escape punishment, Caravaggio's only salvation would be to get pardoned by the Pope. To pursue this, he sailed from Naples to Rome and was arrested in Palo, where he eventually died a few days later in July 1610. 

Although Caravaggio's life was filled with controversy and ill fate, his work became to be recognized as one of the most significant influences in the baroque art movement.