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A Brief Description Of Caravaggio And Caravaggisti In 17th-Century Europe

Referencing Styles : MLA | Pages : 1

Michelangelo Merisi Caravaggio (1571-1610) was an Italian painter who lived and painted in Rome, Naples, Malta and Sicily between the early 1590s up until his demise in 1610. His paintings deftly combine realistic observations of the human state, both physical and emotional, with a dramatic use of lighting; it was these influences that led to the formation and development of Baroque painting. Caravaggio utilized close physical observation with dramatic contrasts in lighting, a technique that is today known as tenebrism. He employed this particular technique as a dominant stylistic element, darkening shadows and transfixing the subjects of his paintings in bright shades of light. He was able to express crucial moments and scenes, often violent struggles, torture and death. Caravaggio tended to work rapidly, employing live models and with a preferences to work directly on the canvas. It can be said that he had a singularly profound impact on the development of the Baroque style of painting which emerged from Mannerism; his influence is clearly visible in the works of such painters like Peter Paul Rubens, Jusepe de Ribera, Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Rembrandt. In fact, artists of the following generations who took heavy inspiration from Caravaggio were christened as Caravaggisti or Caravagesques, as well as tenobrosi or tenebrists.

Caravaggio was born in Milan where his father, Fermo Merixio, was a household administrator and architect-decorator to the Marchese of Caravaggio, a town not far from the city of Bergamo. In 1576, the family shifted to Caravaggio in the event of a plague having broken out in Milan in that year and the following year, both Caravaggio’s father and grandfather died on the same day. It is assumed that he grew up in Caravaggio, even though his family maintained contact with the Sforza and Colonna families, both whom were allied by marriage and both of whom would have a significant role in the life of Caravaggio. Caravaggio began his four year-long apprenticeship with the Milanese painter Simone Peterzano in 1584, the same year his mother died. It is possible that after his apprenticeship ended, he stayed in the environs of Milan-Caravaggio but it is also equally likely that he paid a visit to the city of Venice and saw the works of the painter, Giorgione, who was later accused of imitating the works of Federico Zuccari; it is also likely that he would have been acquainted with the art treasures of Milan, including Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper as well as with regional Lombard art, a style which paid attention to naturalistic detail and which also beared a striking resemblance to the naturalism of Germany, rather than to the stylized formality and grandeur of Roman Mannerism.

Caravaggio shifted from Milan to Rome in 1592, apparently in flight after “certain quarrels” and injuring a police officer. In his early days, he found refuge with the miserly Pandolfo Pucci, and after a few months he was performing hack-work for the highly successful Giuseppe Cesari, the favourite painter of Pope Clement VIII in his factory-like workshop. At the time, there was a huge demand for paintings in order to decorate the many new churches and palazzos being constructed and it was also the period when the Church was trying to look for a stylistic alternative to Mannerism in religious art which had the objective to pose as a counter to the threat of the Protestant Reformation. Caravaggio’s innovated a radical form of naturalism that involved close physical observation with an almost theatrical use of lighting which came to be known as tenebrism.

Leaving the employment of Cesari after a heated argument, he decided to forge his own way ahead. At this point, he befriended the painter Prospero Orsi, the architect Onorio Longhi and the Sicilian artist Mario Minniti. With the help of these three, Caravaggio would rise up to become arguably one of the best painters in Rome. However, his constant brawling caused many problems and this led to him being declared as an outlaw, his patrons in the Sforza and Colonna families being unable to do anything about it. He fled to Naples and there too he attained fame as a painter. This however did not stop him from going to Malta and become famous even among the Knights of Malta as a painter, but even then his rowdiness caused himself to be expelled from the Order, whereupon he left for Sicily. He died in 1610 in Naples, under mysterious circumstances. Although debates have arisen as to the true cause of his death, there is no argument over the legacy that he would bequeath to the Renaissance and to art of Western paining, in general.

As an artist, Caravaggio revolutionized the use of many techniques that were then in use but he utilized them to their fullest potential. Although chiaroscuro was long in practice, it was Caravaggio who used the technique’s dramatic abilities in a manner to lend a sense of theatrics and grandeur to his paintings. This was achieved by making the contrast between light and shadow more apparent and it was augmented by trying to attain a degree of unanticipated realism that was achieved by closely observing the object that he was trying to depict on the canvas. He was also known to work relatively quicker than other contemporary artists, forsaking drawing from drawings and choosing to draw from live models to make his paintings look more authentic and mirroring reality.

The emergence of the Caravaggisti occurred even within the lifetime of Caravaggio himself, as his paintings were starting to influence many new and young artists of the time. Further, the radical use of chiaroscuro was the decisive factor that led to the creation of the Baroque style of painting which focussed on the attainment of a degree of realism while manipulating the contrast between light and shadow to produce a singularly dramatic tone for the subject of the painting. This has allowed Caravaggio’s legacy to exist beyond his immediate lifetime and become one of the names who led to the orientation towards realism in the arts.


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