April 30, 2015

#04-012: Caravaggio, Renaissance "Bad Boy"

charcoal and pastel sketch of an open-faced man with unkempt hair and a mustache and goatee

Note: Caravaggio painted his subjects in action, not in the "calm before the storm" as was common in his day. The results were astounding.

Get Ready: Does an irascible nature seem like a natural temperament for an artist? That is, are artists supposed to be naturally difficult?

Michelangelo Merisi (1571-1610) was born in Milan, but when the plague struck that city in 1576, his family returned to his father's hometown nearby, from which he took his common name: Caravaggio.

In 1577, the orphaned 13-year-old moved back to Milan, where he began his training as a painter. By age 20, he had moved on to Rome and became one of that city's most famous painters during his short lifetime.

He was one of the "bad boys" of art. He may have moved to Rome because of a serious fight he had been in, in which he had wounded a Milanese police officer. In 1606 he had to move on again because he killed a man; his last few years were spent in exile.

He became the very picture of the swaggering Renaissance artist and street-brawler. One report said he was "ever ready to engage in a fight or an argument, so that it is most awkward to get along with him."

His volatile character showed in his work. Prior to Caravaggio, Renaissance art had been rather formal and rational. It often portrayed figures before they acted, as when Michelangelo Buonarroti's David stands calmly with a stone in his hand and his sling on his shoulder before attacking the giant Goliath. Caravaggio's Amor Vincit Omnia ("Love Conquers All") is a good example of the dynamism of his work.

a rather wicked-looking nude Cupid with black wings stands among musical instruments and other Renaissance-y objects
Amor Vincit Omnia

Caravaggio helped bring in a new style, showing subjects in the heat of action. This contributed to the development of the later Baroque style. His use of light and shadow (called "tenebrism") showed passion instead of the rational calm of the Renaissance. This effect will be familiar to fans of Rembrandt (1606-1669) whose style was heavily influenced by Caravaggio's.

Another element of his work was its natural style. It was not idealized; instead, it showed the defects in his subjects. He worked from life, not from drawings, attempting to show things as they were. A friend wrote of him after his death that as a painter he was "not equal to a[nother] painter, but to Nature itself..."

Some found his work dramatic. Others called it vulgar. Famous in his lifetime, Caravaggio was mostly forgotten until the 20th century, when one critic wrote, "What begins in the work of Caravaggio is, quite simply, modern painting."

He died on his way to Rome to receive a pardon from the Pope. It may have been fever or lead poisoning (from his paints) that took him. Others say he was murdered by a rival.


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caravaggio

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. brawler
  2. defects
  3. dynamism
  4. engage in
  5. idealized
  6. the plague
  7. prior to
  8. rival
  9. swaggering
  10. vulgar

  1. imperfections; bad points
  2. one who gets into a lot of fights
  3. walking in a proud, careless way
  4. crude; inappropriate
  5. join; participate in
  6. before
  7. an opponent; an enemy
  8. made to look perfect
  9. energetic quality
  10. a terrible illness that killed thousands

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for April 30, 2015

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. b; 2. a; 3. i; 4. e; 5. h; 6. j; 7. f; 8. g; 9. c; 10. d