Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, The Crucifixion of Saint Peter, c. 1601, oil on canvas, 7’6” x 5’7”, Cerasi Chapel, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, The Crucifixion of Saint Peter, c. 1601, oil on canvas, 7’6” x 5’7”, Cerasi Chapel, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Newly discovered art by Caravaggio? Let’s hope so!

Two art historians recently announced that they discovered about 100 paintings and drawings by Caravaggio.  Surely, scholars will debate the authenticity of these works of art in the coming months.  If they are originals, this is quite a coup.

So, who is this man and why is he so important?  It is fair to say that he was the most influential artist of the seventeenth century.  Considering that Rembrandt, Peter Paul Rubens, Diego Velázquez, and Gianlorenzo Bernini all hail from the Baroque era as well, this is quite impressive.

Caravaggio only lived to be thirty-eight years old and it is a miracle he lasted that long.  From court records, we know that he was arrested in Rome several times for things like carrying a weapon without a permit and assaulting a waiter at a restaurant.  By 1606, he had to flee Rome because he killed a man.  In 1610, in Naples, he was attacked and disfigured.  The guy was a brute and he had lots of enemies.

His art is as rough, gritty, and dramatic as he was.  He used real people for models, resulting in a stark naturalism (what many people call realism) that had never been seen before.  His compositions were very dramatic, often presenting the climax of a story by use of slashing diagonals, placing the figures close to the surface of his paintings so that they confront a viewer.  There also are tremendous contrasts of lights and darks in his paintings, a style called tenebrism, that make his art riveting.

Likely because he was not the easiest person to get along with, he had no students; nevertheless, his naturalism and tenebrism profoundly influenced the next few generations of artists and became a style that spread throughout Europe and only a few Baroque artists were not influenced, either directly or indirectly, by Caravaggio.

 

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