Following my post about High Renaissance, you'd think I would post about the Baroque era next... Sorry Void™. Maybe next time, or maybe not at all.

Instead, I'll focus on this one Baroque painter guy. And that would be...

"All works, no matter what or by whom painted, are nothing but bagatelles and childish trifles... unless they are made and painted from life, and there can be nothing... better than to follow nature."

Michelangelo Merisi a.k.a. Caravaggio (1571-1610) was a jerk. Yeah, that's what I hear anyway. But despite having a short fuse, he was one of the greatest, most influential painters of ye' olden days. He never really ran out of commissions to do, and for some odd reason, he always found the time to finish em'.

Judith Beheading Holofernes by Caravaggio, 1599

According to our favorite cheat sheet Wikipedia, Caravaggio's artistic philosophy was greatly influenced during his stay in Milan. His style therefore emphasized 'simplicity and attention to naturalistic detail', as opposed to going all out.

Artchive described his situation quite well, saying that "...Caravaggio aimed to make paintings that depicted the truth, and was critically condemned for being a 'naturalist'. In spite of adverse reactions, Caravaggio was commissioned to produce a number of large-scale paintings. However, certain of these after 1600 were made only to be rejected by patrons on the grounds of indecorum or theological incorrectness."

The Rest During The Fight from Egpyth

See? I told you he was a jerk. Now, all this talk about Naturalism... but what does it mean? Why was it so important, especially following the two eras of the Renaissance? Well, according yet again to the Artchive, everything depended on the "...depiction of the human body, and where the eccentricities of his successors, who did not paint from life at all, distorted the popular notion of what the eye actually sees."

Artchive continues to described it further that "...He painted with an intensity of realism never before equalled, and his impact was so immediate, profound and lasting that it affected all the great painters of the first half of the seventeenth century."

Sleeping Cupid by Caravaggio

Ooooh! This is also a great thing about his life "Caravaggio created himself. He was antinomian, despising all laws of life and art. But his fatal propensity to break all the rules, which turned his life first into anarchy, then tragedy, also made him an artist of astonishing originality and creative power. He destroyed the old order and imposed a new one." Yes. He's got into a lot of arguments and brawls in his life. He got into trial eleven times between 1600 and 1606! He was suspected of sodomy, but got away with it. This was confirmed posthumously. The worse part is that killed a guy during a brawl after a game of tennis, forcing him to be a fugitive for the rest of his life.

Poor shmuck.

The Raising of Lazarus by Caravaggio

(Patrick Hunt comments: Lazarus's crosslike pose as an allusion to the "Cross-Bearing Fathers" and some have also long commented on Caravaggio's allusion to Michelangelo's Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel with life returning to Lazarus's hand from the command of Christ while the rest of his body is still in the sleep of death...

The contrasting light and darkness on the hand of Lazarus also reminds one of the famous passage in Genesis 1:3 when God says "Let there be light". Second, also in parallel with the darkness of Christ's face hidden in like shadow on the left - also suggestive of his yet hidden deity both before and after his Transfiguration.

So what about his work? Oh boy. Despite his rowdy reputation, he really got a lot of s**t done. His "Naturalism" style meant the he painted with such care to detail that in one painting, people could literally identify every individual plants being held by the subject!

Caravaggio was a real sucker for detail, where his philosophy has led some to speculate that where he born born during the "...twentieth or twenty-first century, Caravaggio would have been a photographer or a film maker. But that is nonsense." (Artchive)

Artchive states that "...His fundamental ideas were always absolutely clear, though he continually changed and improved his techniques. He believed in total realism, and he always painted from life, dragging poor people in from the street if need be."

Supper at Emmaeus by Caravaggio, 1598

Caravaggio revolutionized painting in general. I mean this guy, did no preparatory drawings prior to painting his works. He just painted straight onto the canvas, and this method alone earned him some criticism from his peers. Bellori was quoted saying "The painters then in Rome were greatly taken by this novelty, and the young ones particularly gathered around him, praised him as the unique imitator of nature, and looked on his work as miracles."

The Lute Player by Caravaggio, 1595

Artchive sez "..Not a single drawing by him has survived and it is likely that he never did any. He simply stood up to the canvas and painted directly onto it, from the living model."

Death of the Virgin by Caravaggio

His religious art, like I mentioned earlier, received some flack for being "inaccurate", such as the depiction with the Death of the Virgin. The church rejected his works based on how the Virgin looked, when she was either "indecent" or seated, or whatever. What's interesting was how these rejected paintings were still sought after by wealthy Dukes and whatnot.

David with Head of Goliath by Caravaggio

Why are his paintings so dark? Well, that's the secret actually. According to Artchive, "...To achieve realism, he liked to pull his subject out of surrounding darkness into strong lateral or overhead light, as close to the viewer as possible."

Artchive sez "..Caravaggio told the story of Christianity as it had never been told before, as an actual happening"

Crucifixion of Peter by Caravaggio

In the end, his works became objects of debate. His works were a little discomforting. Artchive described how "...The Church, which bought more than half his output, recognised the huge popular appeal of his vivid presentation of the faith. But it sometimes found Caravaggio too real for comfort... What in effect Caravaggio is doing systematically and deliberately, for the first time in the history of art, destroying the space between the event in the painting and the people looking at it. He is giving us direct windows into life, whether religious life or ordinary life."

So woohoo! Woohoo for realism! Woohoo for Caravaggio!


  1. Anonymous Says:
  2. What can I say?--The best lesson one can learn from Michelangelo is this: True art doesn't care what people think about it.--In this age of one-click galleries, mass-market paperbacks, and copycat-creating art colleges, Caravaggio would not even have been reviled; he would be ignored and forgotten, despite his talent, and at best, published in a subculturalist magazine such as Heavy Metal.

    The frankness of it all is disgusting, really, but unfortunately, more blame resides upon the artists who would rather create "art for non-artists to appreciate" than create what may be called "true art"--that is, visual art which challenges the senses and standards so much that the mindless consumer is left dumbfounded and the connoisseur of the genre is left shocked, compelled, and yet, utterly interested in what drove it to happen.

    And this is what 'art' is, is it not? And if one is an artist yet settles for less, is he really anything more than a pitiful copy, the likes of which populated The Dark Ages?

  3. ChrisK Says:
  4. While you bring up a really interesting point, Void™, the reality though is that this blog hasn’t focused on the kind of thought-provoking contemporary artist/artwork you speak of. Most of the artists I have featured have just been the usual commercial concept artists and designers found on most digital art anthologies, portfolios, forums and magazines. I believe the artists you’re raving about can be found on deviantART?

    If you want to find this so-called “true art”, you need only look at your local art galleries. I highly recommend taking a look around the web for contemporary European artists too, with a special mention to the folks at Germany, who are producing some really amazing stuff (Thank you Euromaxx!). If you want art that satirizes society, try the counter culture magazines like Juxtaposition. Hundreds of similarly themed art blogs feature stuff and subjects I have yet to tackle upon. There’s a whole world out there beyond the empty confines of the Concept Den!

  5. stanford Says:
  6. Thanks for the great post. I love Caravaggio and I think you put your finger on the precise reason why: "..Caravaggio told the story of Christianity as it had never been told before, as an actual happening"

    He captures gritty viseceral moments of the stories that shake them free of their sterile, stained glass, depictions.

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