Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Caravaggio: The Scoundrel of Beautiful Art


Michelangelo Merisi, better known as "Caravaggio," was possessed of immeasurable, original talent as an artist and an immeasurably bad temper as a man.


There was no doubt as to his talent. In his fairly brief lifetime - he was about 39 years old when he died (1571-1610) - he received many top commissions. Art historians have referred to him as the most original and influential artist after the period of Da Vinci.


Caravaggio was painting in the age of Mannerism art. Yet his work was not mannerly. Instead, he used rough street people complete with dirty feet and shabby clothes for his subjects - even for lofty religious commissions. His realism would stand as a precursor to the Baroque period.



His best works used the drama of deep shadows and directed light. This technique, referred to as "chiaroscuro," probably influenced such later well-known artist as Vermeer, Rubens and Rembrandt.

In spite of all his talent and originality, his personal life was marked by many arguments, fights, and arrests. (He was brought to trial on at least 11 occasions.) His aggression culminated in the killing of a man during a fight over the score of a tennis match.

Caravaggio fled. Ultimately, he was found and arrested. Powerful patrons arranged clemency for him from the Pope. In circumstances that would make an intriguing movie script, Caravaggio died before the Papal document arrived. It is thought that he died of pneumonia and the cumulative effect of his lifestyle.

Postscript: He was a fugitive and relentlessly pursued for 4 years. Yet, historians consider the art work during this period to be his best. The question is: What muse lived in him that required the payment or homage of such stress and violence in return for his talent?


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