Italian baroque painter Michelangelo Caravaggio was considered a revolutionary artist accused of imitating nature at the expense of ideal beauty. He mastered the naturalistic painting style in the early 17th century. There was a realism and simplicity to his art that emerged from the dramatic light and dark effects known as chiaroscuro, a technique involving the setting of partially illuminated figures against a dark background. Although he never acquired any pupils, a naturalist art school has since flourished in Italy and abroad based on an enthusiastic emulation of his style.
Michelangelo Caravaggio was born Michelangelo Merisi on September 28, 1573, in Caravaggio, Italy. Later, he adopted the name Caravaggio as his last name. Orphaned at age 11, he was apprenticed to the painter Simone Peterzano of Milan for four years.
After working as a painter’s assistant, Caravaggio moved to Rome in the early 1590s and specialized in painting still life. In 1595, he began to sell his paintings through a dealer who brought him to the attention of Cardinal Francesco del Monte. Subsequently, he was commissioned to paint for the church of San Luigi dei Francesi. Caravaggio's realistic naturalism became evident in three scenes he created depicting the life of St. Matthew to adorn the walls of the Contarelli Chapel. The dramatic nature of these paintings opened the public’s eyes to naturalist art. In 1601, Caravaggio received his second major commission from Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome to create ‘Conversion of Saint Paul’ and ‘Crucifixion of Saint Peter’.
Michelangelo Caravaggio was considered unpredictable, dangerous and somewhat of a rebel to those who witnessed his engagement in numerous battles. In 1606, his reputation for disaster caught up to him when he fled from Rome to Naples with a price on his head for killing a young man in a brawl.
The latter part of Caravaggio’s life was spent in Naples, Malta, Syracuse, and Messina. His first refuge was in Naples on the estates of Prince Marzio Colonna, where he painted ‘Madonna of the Rosary’. His art work during that time was exclusive to religious subjects such as ‘Seven Works of Mercy’ and ‘The Flagellation of Christ’.
Michelangelo Caravaggio was endowed Knight of St. John of Malta in 1608 upon creating ‘Grand Master, Alof de Wignacourt’ during his stay with the Knights of St. John. Shortly afterwards, he was arrested again for fighting until he escaped from a Maltese jail and fled to Syracuse in Sicily. While in Sicily, he painted several important works of art including the ‘Burial of Saint Lucy’ and the ‘Raising of Lazarus’. At a point in time, he was informed that the Pope had issued him a pardon. Upon arriving by ship to Port Ercole, he was arrested by mistake and then released only to die of fever on a beach in Tuscany on July 18, 1610. He would never return to Rome.