Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, also known as Caravaggio or Caravaggio, was an Italian painter, born on September 29, 1571 in Milan and died on July 18, 1610 in Porto Ercole.
His powerful and innovative work revolutionized 17th century painting through its naturalistic character, its sometimes brutal realism and the use of the chiaroscuro technique to the point of tenebrism. He became famous during his lifetime and influenced many great painters after him, as witnessed by the emergence of Caravaggio.
Indeed, in the early 1600s, he achieved tremendous success: working in a milieu of cultured patrons, he received prestigious commissions and high-ranking collectors sought out his paintings. But then Caravaggio entered a difficult period. In 1606, after numerous run-ins with the justice system of the Papal States, he mortally wounded an adversary during a duel. He had to leave Rome and spent the rest of his life in exile in Naples, Malta and Sicily. Until 1610, the year of his death at the age of 38, his paintings were partly intended to make up for this mistake. However, certain biographical elements concerning his morals are now being revised, as recent historical research calls into question the unflattering portrait that has long been propagated by seventeenth-century sources and which can no longer be relied upon.
After a long period of critical oblivion, it was not until the beginning of the 20th century that Caravaggio”s genius was fully recognized, regardless of his sulphurous reputation. His popular success gave rise to a multitude of novels and films, as well as exhibitions and innumerable scientific publications which, for the past century, have completely renewed his image. He is currently represented in the greatest museums in the world, despite the limited number of paintings that have survived. However, some paintings that have been discovered in the last century still raise questions of attribution.
Youth and training
Michelangelo was born in Milan, probably on September 29, 1571. His parents, who were married in January of the same year, were Fermo Merisi and Lucia Aratori, both from Caravaggio, a small town in the Bergamo region, then under Spanish rule.
Francesco I Sforza of Caravaggio, Marquis of Caravaggio, was the witness to their marriage. Michelangelo was baptized the day after his birth in the Basilica of St. Stephen the Great, in the Milanese neighborhood where the master of the fabbrica del Duomo, where his father probably worked, resided. According to the baptismal certificate, his godfather was the Milanese patrician Francesco Sessa.
His father”s functions are defined differently according to the sources: foreman, mason or architect; he has the title of “magister”, which could mean that he was the architect-decorator or steward of Francesco I Sforza. Nevertheless, several documents use the rather vague term “muratore” to describe Caravaggio”s father”s profession, which seems to imply that he ran a small construction business. His maternal grandfather was a well-known and respected surveyor. Both his paternal and maternal families came entirely from Caravaggio and were middle class: Costanza Colonna, daughter of Marcantonio Colonna and wife of Francesco I Sforza, had recourse to several women of the Merisi family as nannies for her children; she was a protector on whom Michelangelo could rely on on several occasions.
His half-sister, Margherita, was born from a previous union in 1565. Michelangelo”s birth in 1571 was followed by those of two brothers and a sister: Giovan Battista in 1572, Caterina in 1574 and Giovan Pietro around 1575-1577 and was fully aware of the Catholic Reformation initiated in Milan by Archbishop Charles Borromeo and in Rome by the founder of the Oratorians, Philip Neri. Michelangelo remained throughout his Roman period in close contact with this Oratorian society.
The plague struck Milan in 1576. To escape the epidemic, the Merisi family took refuge in Caravaggio, but this did not prevent the disease from taking Michelangelo”s grandfather and, a few hours later, his father on October 20, 1577. In 1584, the widow and her four surviving children returned to the Lombard capital where Michelangelo, aged thirteen, joined the studio of Simone Peterzano, who claimed to be a disciple of Titian but with a style more properly Lombard than Venetian: the apprenticeship contract was signed by his mother on April 6, 1584, in exchange for 24 gold crowns for a period of four years.
The young painter”s apprenticeship lasted at least four years with Simone Peterzano, and through him, in contact with the Lombard school with its expressive luminism and its true details. He was attentive to the work of the Campi brothers (mainly Antonio) and Ambrogio Figino, whom the apprentice painter was able to study closely in Milan itself and in the neighboring towns. He probably also saw good examples of Venetian and Bolognese paintings: Moretto, Savoldo, Lotto, Moroni and Titian, all of which were available locally, and even those of Leonardo da Vinci, who stayed in Milan from 1482 to 1499-1500 and then from 1508 to 1513, and whose various stays were numerous and more or less accessible: The Last Supper, the sculpture project for a monumental horse, etc. The young Merisi studied the pictorial theories of his time, drawing, the techniques of oil painting and fresco, but was especially interested in portraiture and still life.
The last years of Caravaggio”s apprenticeship, between 1588 and the year of his move to Rome in the summer of 1592, remain little known: perhaps he perfected his skills with Peterzano, or perhaps he set up his own business.
Artistic and religious context
The Italian art historian Roberto Longhi was the first to put names to Caravaggio”s visual culture by studying his paintings. According to him, the development of Caravaggio”s style was the consequence of the influence of certain Lombard masters, and more precisely those who worked in the region of Bergamo, Brescia, Cremona and as far as Milan: Foppa and Borgognone in the previous century, then Lotto, Savoldo, Moretto and Moroni (whom Longhi describes as “pre-Caravaggists”). The influence of these masters, to which we can add that of Ambrogio Figino, would have provided the basis for Caravaggio”s art. Savoldo and the brothers Antonio, Giulio and Vincenzo Campi used techniques of contrast between light and shadow, perhaps inspired by Raphael”s Vatican fresco of St. Peter in prison. This contrast effect becomes a central element of Caravaggio”s work. According to Longhi, the main master of this school would be Foppa, who was responsible for the revolution in light and naturalism – as opposed to a certain Renaissance majesty – that are the central elements of Caravaggio”s paintings. Finally, Longhi does not fail to underline the very probable influence of Simone Peterzano, the master of the young apprentice that Caravaggio still was. The journey to Rome could have passed, for one painter in particular, through Bologna, where he could also have discovered the experiences of Annibale Carracci, which would have been useful to him in his first paintings for the open market.
Caravaggio”s biographers always refer to the close relationship between the painter and the Catholic Reformation movement (or “Counter-Reformation”). The beginning of Caravaggio”s apprenticeship coincided with the death of a major figure in the Reformation: Charles Borromeo, who exercised legal and moral authority over Milan in the name of the Church, alongside the Spanish government. The young artist discovers the essential role of the commissioners, who initiated almost all painting at that time, and the control exercised by the religious authority over the treatment of images for the public. Charles Borromeo, cardinal and then archbishop of Milan, was one of the drafters of the Council of Trent and tried to put it into practice by reviving the action of the clergy among Catholics and by encouraging the more affluent to join confraternities to help the poorest and the prostitutes.
Frederic Borromeo, cousin of Charles and also archbishop of Milan since 1595, continued this work and maintained close ties with Saint Philip Neri, who died in 1595 and was canonized in 1622. Founder of the Congregation of Oratorians, he wished to return to the devotion of the first Christians, their simple life, and he gave a great role to music. Caravaggio”s entourage, his brothers and Costanza Colonna, who protected his family, practiced their faith in the spirit of the Oratorians and the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola in order to integrate the mysteries of the faith into their daily lives. Caravaggio”s religious scenes are therefore logically imbued with this simplicity, featuring the poor, with their dirty feet, the apostles going barefoot; the fusion of the most modest ancient costumes and the simplest contemporary clothing participates in the integration of faith into daily life.
Roman period (1592-1606)
Caravaggio left Simone Peterzano”s studio and returned to Caravaggio around 1589, the year his mother died. He remained there until the division of the family inheritance in May 1592, and then left in the summer, perhaps for Rome, seeking to make a career for himself there, as did many artists at the time. It is not excluded, however, that he arrived in Rome earlier because this period is poorly documented; in fact, his trace is lost in 1592 for a little more than three years, until we can attest his presence in Rome in March 1596 (and probably since the end of 1595). Rome was at that time a dynamic papal city, animated by the Council of Trent and the Catholic Reformation. Construction sites flourished and a Baroque spirit was in the air. Pope Clement VIII was elected on January 30, 1592, succeeding Sixtus V who had already transformed the city.
The first years in the great city are chaotic and poorly known: this period has, later and on misinterpreted facts, forged his reputation as a violent and quarrelsome man, often obliged to flee the judicial consequences of his fights and duels. At first he lived in poverty, hosted by Monsignor Pandolfo Pucci. According to Mancini, his first three paintings for sale date from this period, of which only two have survived: Boy Bitten by a Lizard and Boy Peeling a Fruit. Only copies survive of the latter, which is probably his first known composition and one of the earliest genre paintings, like those of Annibal Carracci, whose works Caravaggio was likely to have seen in Bologna. The hypothesis of a homoerotic atmosphere in the paintings of this period has been the subject of bitter debate among scholars of the artist since the 1970s.
According to Baglione, he first entered the studio of the very modest Sicilian painter Lorenzo Carli, known as “Lorenzo Siciliano”. He met the painter Prospero Orsi, the architect Onorio Longhi and perhaps the Sicilian painter Mario Minniti, who became friends and accompanied him in his success. He also met Fillide Melandroni, who became a famous courtesan in Rome and served as his model on many occasions.
It is possible that he then entered a better workshop, that of Antiveduto Grammatica, but always to produce cheap paintings.
From the first half of 1593, he worked for several months with Giuseppe Cesari. Barely older than Caravaggio, Cesari was commissioned and, having been ennobled, became the “Cavalier d”Arpin”. He was the official painter of Pope Clement VIII and a very prominent artist, although he and his brother Bernardino did not enjoy a reputation for high moral standards. It was perhaps through their contact, however, that Caravaggio felt the need to approach the typical mores of the aristocracy of the day. Cesari entrusted his apprentice with the task of painting flowers and fruit in his studio. During this period, Caravaggio was probably also employed as a decorator of more complex works, but there is no reliable record of this. He could have learned from Cesari how to sell his art and how, for potential collectors and antique dealers, to set up his personal repertoire by exploiting his knowledge of Lombard and Venetian art. This is the period of the Little Sick Bacchus, the Boy with a Basket of Fruit and the Bacchus: figures in the antique style that seek to capture the viewer”s gaze and where the still life, recently given pride of place, testifies to the painter”s skill with extreme precision in detail. These early paintings, interspersed with references to classical literature, soon became fashionable, as evidenced by numerous high-quality period copies.
Several historians mention a possible trip to Venice to explain certain typically Venetian influences, notably for Le Repos pendant la fuite en Égypte, but this has never been established with certainty. He seems to have little appreciation at this time for references to the art of Raphael or to Roman antiquity (which, for seventeenth-century artists, refers essentially to Roman sculpture) but he never ignored them. His repentant Magdalene thus bears witness to the survival of an ancient allegorical figure, but with a slightly plunging view that reinforces the impression of the sinner”s abasement. This would be the first full figure of the painter.
Following an illness or injury, he was hospitalized at the Consolation Hospital. His collaboration with Cesari came to an abrupt end, for reasons that are not yet clear.
It was at this time that the painter Federigo Zuccaro, a protégé of Cardinal Frederick Borromeo, brought about important changes in the status of painters. He transformed their brotherhood into an academy in 1593: the Accademia di San Luca (Academy of Saint Luke). This was intended to raise the social standing of painters by invoking the intellectual value of their work, while orienting artistic theory in favor of disegno (in the sense of drawing but also of intention) against the concept of colore defended by the Mannerist theoretician Lomazzo. Caravaggio appears on a list of the first participants.
In order to survive, Caravaggio contacted merchants to sell his paintings. He met Constantino Spata in his store near the church of St. Louis of the French. Spata introduced him to his friend Prospero Orsi (also known as Prospero delle Grottesche), who participated with Caravaggio in the first meetings of the Accademia di San Luca and became his friend. Orsi helped Caravaggio find independent lodgings at the home of Monsignor Fantino Petrignani, and introduced him to his well-connected acquaintances. Orsi”s brother-in-law, the papal cameraman Gerolamo Vittrici, commissioned three paintings from Caravaggio: The Repentant Magdalene, The Rest during the Flight into Egypt, and The Fortune Teller – and later the altarpiece The Entombment.
The Fortune Teller aroused the enthusiasm of Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte, a man of great culture, passionate about art and music, who, enchanted by this painting, soon commissioned a second version, that of 1595 (Capitoline Museum). The cardinal had previously made a first acquisition: the painting of the Cheaters. The young Lombard then entered the service of the cardinal for almost three years in the Palazzo Madam (the current seat of the Italian Senate) from 1597. The cardinal himself had been installed there by his great friend Ferdinand I de” Medici as a diplomat in the service of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany to the Pope. According to Bellori (in 1672), Del Monte offered the artist a very good status, even giving him an honorable place among the gentlemen of the house.
While under the protection of the cardinal, Caravaggio was allowed to work for other patrons, with the consent of his protector and patron. This pious man, a member of the ancient nobility, was also modest, wearing clothes that were sometimes worn, but he was one of the most cultured personalities in Rome. He was passionate about music, trained artists and conducted scientific experiments, particularly in optics, with his brother Guidobaldo, who published a fundamental work on this subject in 1600. In this milieu, Caravaggio found the models for his musical instruments and the subjects of certain paintings, with the erudite details that made them so appealing to his clients; he learned to play the popular baroque guitar and found intellectual stimulation to pay attention to effects (notably optical) and to the meaning of light and cast shadows. The cardinal was a co-patron of the Accademia di San Luca and a member of the Fabbrica di San Pietro, the key to all commissions for St. Peter”s Basilica and to all matters related to outstanding commissions. As a collector of Caravaggio”s early works (he owned eight of his paintings at the time of his death in 1627), he recommended the young artist and obtained an important commission for him: the decoration of the entire Contarelli Chapel in the Church of St. Louis of the French in Rome. The great success of this project earned Caravaggio other commissions, and greatly contributed to his reputation.
In addition to this crucial support, Caravaggio benefited from a number of advantages through his contact with Del Monte. He integrated the habits and customs of the ancient nobility, such as the authorization to carry swords, which extended to their household, or the attachment to codes of honor that allowed for their use; he integrated their disdain for pomp and circumstance, but also their taste for collections and culture, even to the point of using erudition in painting; and above all, he became part of the network of friendships of these ecclesiastical circles and their relatives. Del Monte”s neighbor was the Genoese banker Vincenzo Giustiniani, another patron and collector of Caravaggio. Finally, the cardinal”s influence can be felt in the details of theological erudition that impact the young painter”s pictorial choices, tending to prove that he discussed his compositions with his patron. Caravaggio thus found much more than a patron in the person of Cardinal Del Monte: he was a true mentor for him.
Thanks to the commissions and advice of the influential prelate, Caravaggio changed his style, abandoning small-scale canvases and individual portraits to begin a period of complex works with groups of several figures deeply involved in an action, often half-length, but sometimes full-length as well. The cardinal bought several paintings that corresponded to his own tastes: The Musicians and The Lute Player with scenes where the proximity with the viewer is accentuated, up to The Fortune Teller and The Cheaters where the viewer becomes almost an accomplice of the represented action.
Within a few years, his reputation grew phenomenally. Caravaggio became a model for an entire generation of painters who were inspired by his style and themes. Cardinal Del Monte was a member of the College of Cardinals overseeing the construction of St. Peter”s Basilica, but he also followed other similar commissions in Roman churches. Thanks to him, Caravaggio received important commissions from 1599 onwards, notably for the clergy: The Vocation and The Martyrdom of St. Matthew, as well as St. Matthew and the Angel for the Contarelli Chapel in the Church of St. Louis of the French (whose ceiling Giuseppe Cesari had already frescoed in 1593), as well as The Nativity with St. Lawrence and St. Francis (now lost) for Palermo, The Conversion of St. Paul on the Road to Damascus and The Crucifixion of St. Peter for the Cerasi Chapel in the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo. Ancient sources mention paintings that were refused; however, this issue has recently been reviewed and corrected, proving that Caravaggio”s paintings are, on the contrary, publicly successful despite some refusals from ecclesiastical patrons. This is true of the first version of The Conversion of St. Paul, St. Matthew and the Angel (1602), and later of The Death of the Virgin (1606). Nevertheless, these paintings found many buyers, and among the most notable were the Marquis Vincenzo Giustiniani and the Duke of Mantua, rich art lovers.
The works for the Contarelli Chapel, in particular, caused a sensation when they were unveiled. Caravaggio”s innovative style drew attention to his treatment of religious themes (in this case, the life of St. Matthew) and, by extension, of historical painting, with the help of live models. He transposed his Lombard models into compositions that confronted the great names of the time: Raphael and Giuseppe Cesari, the future Cavalier d”Arpin. In this relative break with the classical ideals of the Renaissance, and with the erudite references lavished without restriction by Cardinal Del Monte and his circle, he humanized the divine and brought it closer to the common believer. He was an immediate success (from the first version of Saint Matthew and the Angel) and considerably extended his influence among other painters, especially thanks to the scene of The Vocation of Saint Matthew. This painting then generated a profusion of more or less successful imitations, always with several characters drinking and eating while others play music, all in a dark atmosphere interspersed with areas of bright light.
The years he spent in Rome under the protection of the cardinal were not without their difficulties. He proved to be a brawler, sensitive and violent and spent several periods in prison, as did many of his contemporaries, since affairs of honor were often settled in the early 17th century by a duel. He made several enemies who contested his way of conceiving the profession of painter, in particular the painter Giovanni Baglione, virulent detractor who often attacked him, and who contributed durably to tarnish the personal reputation of the artist in his work Le vite de” pittori, scultori et architetti.
During this period in Rome, Caravaggio painted many of his most famous pictures and enjoyed increasing success and fame throughout the country. Commissions poured in, even though some of his paintings were sometimes refused by the most conventional patrons when they strayed from the rigid iconographic norms of the time (The Death of the Virgin was refused by the Discalced Carmelites, but was nevertheless quickly purchased by a private collector, the Duke of Mantua). The works are numerous, he produces several per year and seems to paint directly on the canvas, with a firm line and modulating the passages less and less. Nevertheless, it is likely that he made studies, although no drawings have been preserved, his famous Head of Medusa painted for Cardinal del Monte is his first work on the theme of decapitation, which is found several times in his work. Other works include Saint Catherine of Alexandria, Martha and Mary Magdalene (The Conversion of Mary Magdalene) and Judith Beheading Holofernes. His painting The Entombment, painted around 1603-1604 to decorate the altar of the church of Santa Maria in Vallicella (entirely revived under the impetus of Philip Neri), constitutes one of his most accomplished works. It was later copied by several painters, including Rubens.
Regardless of the outcome of public commissions, numerous private commissions ensured Caravaggio a comfortable income during his Roman period, and testified to his success. Several families commissioned altar paintings to be installed in their private chapels: Pietro Vittrici commissioned The Entombment for the Chiesa Nuova; the Cavalettis had The Madonna of the Pilgrims installed in the Basilica of Sant”Agostino; and The Death of the Virgin was commissioned by the lawyer Laerzio Cherubini for the Carmelite church of Santa Maria della Scala.
In addition to prelate collectors such as Cardinals Del Monte, Sannesi and later Scipione Borghese, Caravaggio”s first important Roman clients were often financiers. They were as positivist in their approach to life as the scholars of the new scientific school. The powerful banker Vincenzo Giustiniani, a neighbor of the cardinal, purchased The Lute Player, a painting that was so successful that Del Monte requested a copy. Subsequently, Giustiniani placed a series of commissions to embellish his gallery of paintings and sculptures, as well as to promote his scholarly culture. The painting of Love Victorious was commissioned, in which the naked Cupid is accompanied by symbols discreetly interwoven with the minimum of significant accessories. Twelve additional paintings by Caravaggio were included in the inventory of the Giustiniani estate in 1638. Another famous nude was destined for the collector Ciriaco Mattei, another financier. Mattei, who already owned a fountain decorated with young boys in a particular sitting position, commissioned Caravaggio to paint a picture inspired by this base, which became The Young St. John the Baptist with a Ram. Here the painter confronts the ignudi on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and Annibal Carracci, who has just painted the same subject in Rome. In addition to this John the Baptist, Mattei owns at least four other paintings by Caravaggio. Ottavio Costa, the pope”s banker, completed this list: he acquired Judith Beheading Holofernes, The Ecstasy of St. Francis and Martha and Mary Magdalene.
Crime and exile (1606-1610)
During his years in Rome, Caravaggio, who knew he was an exceptional artist, saw his character evolve. In an environment where the wearing of a sword was a sign of ancient nobility, and as a member of the noble household of Cardinal Del Monte, success went to his head. The sword that we see from 1600 in The Vocation and in The Martyrdom of St. Matthew, which seems to be part of the natural decor of that time, makes him one of those many criminals for crime of honor, who asked for mercy to the sovereign pontiff and often obtained it.
It begins in 1600 with words. On November 19, 1600, he attacked a student, Girolamo Spampa, for criticizing his works. On the other hand, Giovanni Baglione, Caravaggio”s declared enemy and rival, sued him for defamation. In 1600, he was also imprisoned several times for carrying a sword and was accused of two assaults, which were, however, dismissed. On the other hand, his friend and alter ego, Onorio Longhi, underwent months of interrogation for a whole series of offenses, and the painter”s first biographer, Carel van Mander, seems to have confused the two men, which subsequently led to the image of Caravaggio as a man who provoked public disorder wherever he went.
In 1605, Pope Clement VIII died and his successor Leo XI survived him by only a few weeks. This double vacancy rekindled rivalries between Francophile and Hispanophile prelates, whose supporters clashed more and more openly. The conclave came close to a schism before electing the Francophile Camillo Borghese as Pope, under the name of Paul V. His nephew Scipio Borghese was a good client of Caravaggio”s and the new pope commissioned his portrait from the painter, now well known to the highest dignitaries of the Church.
Caravaggio, who lived close to the Palazzo Borghese, in a shabby apartment in the alley of Santi Cecilia e Biagio (today”s vicolo del Divino Amore), often spent his evenings hanging out in taverns “with his companions, all of whom were shameless, spadassins and painters. The most serious incident occurred on May 28, 1606, during the street parties on the eve of the anniversary of the election of Pope Paul V. These parties were the occasion of many fights in the city. In one of them, four armed men clashed, including Caravaggio and his partner Onorio Longhi, who faced members and relatives of the Tomassoni family, including Ranuccio Tomassoni and his brother Giovan Francesco, the “guardian of order”. During this fight, Caravaggio killed Ranuccio Tomassoni with a sword; he himself was wounded and one of his comrades, Troppa, was also killed by Giovan Francesco. It is almost certain that this brawl had as its object an ancient quarrel, although it is not certain what the object was. Tensions between Onorio Longhi and the Tomassonis had existed for a long time, and it is likely that Caravaggio had simply come to assist his friend Longhi in this vendetta, as required by the code of honor.
Following this drama, the various participants fled to escape justice; for his part, Caravaggio began his exile in the principality of Paliano, south of Rome.
For this murder of a son of a powerful and violent family, linked to the Farnese of Parma, Caravaggio was sentenced in absentia to death by decapitation. This forced him to stay away from Rome. He then embarked on a long four-year journey through Italy (Naples, Sicily, Syracuse, Messina) and on to Malta. However, a Roman at heart and soul, he tried to return throughout his life – but without success during his lifetime despite a papal pardon that his work and his friends and protectors finally managed to obtain.
After taking refuge in the Mount Alban area in Paliano, and perhaps in Zagarolo where the Colonna family took him in, Caravaggio went on to Naples – then under Spanish rule, and therefore beyond the reach of Roman justice – in September or October 1606. This was a very productive period of creation, although he found himself in a very different intellectual environment than in Rome.
In Naples, Caravaggio continued to paint paintings that brought him large sums of money, including the altarpiece The Seven Works of Mercy (1606
The painting for the wealthy Tommaso de Franchis, The Flagellation of Christ, was a great success. A Madonna and Child, now lost, was probably also painted at this time, as well as The Crucifixion of Saint Andrew for the Count of Benavente, Viceroy of Spain.
Some paintings intended for influential prelates seem to have been produced specifically to hasten his judicial pardon: this is perhaps the case of the meditating Saint Francis, which could have been painted for Benedetto Ala (president of the Pontifical Criminal Tribunal) at the beginning of his exile in Paliano, as well as a new, particularly dark David and Goliath intended for Cardinal Scipione Borghese, nephew of Pope Paul V. The latter was quick to name Caravaggio “Knight of Christ” in Malta, where Roberto Longhi argues that David with the Head of Goliath, dated by Sybille Ebert-Schifferer in 1606-1607, was painted “as a sort of desperate appeal to Cardinal Scipione Borghese to intercede with the Pope to obtain the pardon of the fugitive.
In July 1607, he therefore left Naples, where he had stayed for ten months, and moved to Malta, wishing to be appointed to the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem. It is common to be appointed a knight after important orders for the pope, and this military commitment against the Turkish threat could replace a penal sanction. He was therefore introduced to the grand master, Alof de Wignacourt, whose portrait he painted. He also produced several other paintings, including the Saint Jerome Writing commissioned by the knight Malaspina, Sleeping Love for the knight Dell”Antella, the Decollation of St. John the Baptist, a monumental altar painting of exceptional horizontal proportions (3.61 × 5.20 m) done in situ in the co-cathedral of St. John in Valletta, and perhaps his second Flagellation of Christ, commissioned by the local clergy.
In July 1608, he was made a Knight of Malta of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. But his consecration did not last. On the night of August 19, 1608, he was the protagonist of another violent incident. During a brawl, Caravaggio joined a group that attempted to break into the house of the cathedral”s organist. Thrown into prison, he escaped by a rope and left Malta. He was consequently disbarred from the Order. It is likely, however, that he could have benefited from a form of clemency if he had waited for the conclusions of the commission of inquiry.
Caravaggio arrived in Syracuse, Sicily. As the presence of his friend Mario Minniti is not attested, it is assumed that another acquaintance of the painter, the mathematician and humanist Vincenzo Mirabella, had an influence on the commission of The Burial of Saint Lucy. Caravaggio did in fact respond to several commissions for large families and the clergy, including two altarpieces, The Resurrection of Lazarus and The Burial of Saint Lucy, in which the spectacular effect of a vast space of paint left empty, as in The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist, is found, each time with the most explicit determination. Then, a document indicates his presence on June 10, 1609 in Messina, and he painted The Adoration of the Shepherds. With the support of his patrons, and painting these pictures always inspired by his profoundly religious patrons and imbued with a sincere humanity, he always tried to obtain the pope”s grace to return to Rome.
In October 1609, he returned to Naples. Upon his arrival, he was seriously wounded in a new fight by several men who attacked him and left him for dead: the news of his death reached as far as Rome, but he survived and still painted, on commission, several paintings such as Salome with the head of St. John the Baptist, perhaps The Denial of St. Peter, a new St. John the Baptist and The Martyrdom of St. Ursula, for Prince Marcantonio Doria, which could be his very last painting.
It is possible, however, that there are other paintings to be included in the catalog of this late production, including a Mary Magdalene and two St. John the Baptists for Cardinal Scipio Borghese. A St. John the Baptist at the Fountain, often copied afterwards, is not attributed to Caravaggio with certainty, but may well be his last unfinished work.
The context and exact circumstances of Caravaggio”s death remain largely enigmatic. In July 1610, he learned that, thanks to the mediation of Cardinal Scipio Borghese, the Pope was finally willing to grant him a pardon if he asked for one. Wanting to change his fate, he left Naples with a safe-conduct from Cardinal Gonzaga, to get closer to Rome. He then embarked on a felucca that made the connection with Porto Ercole (now in Tuscany), frazione of Monte Argentario, a Spanish enclave of the kingdom of Naples. He took with him several paintings intended for Cardinal Borghese and left others in Naples. He stopped at Palo Laziale, a small natural bay in Lazio south of Civitavecchia in the territory of the States of the Church, which was then home to a garrison. While on land, he was arrested, either by mistake or malice, and thrown into prison for two days. This episode occurred after the Pope had already granted him a pardon, which Caravaggio hoped to receive on his return to Rome. But he died on the way. His death was recorded in the hospital in Porto Ercole on July 18, 1610, at the age of 38. The documents resulting from the dispute over his inheritance have shed some light on these events and on his last Neapolitan home, but the details of his death are still rather obscure.
According to a deliberately invented version, Giovanni Baglione reconstructs the last moments of the painter as follows: “Afterwards, as he could not find the felucca, he was taken by fury and wandered on this beach like a desperate man, under the whip of the Sun Lion, to see if he could distinguish on the sea the boat that was carrying his belongings.” This version of the facts is today rejected with a precise argumentation. Giovanni Pietro Bellori, a later biographer, then simply relied on this false version. An earlier version states that, in despair, he reached Porto Ercole on foot, a hundred kilometers away, and that, dejected, lost and feverish, he walked on the beach in the sun, where he ended up dying a few days later. A more likely version is that he rode on horseback along the Via Aurelia from Palo Laziale to Porto Ercole, where he died.
Vincenzo Pacelli, a specialist on the painter and more particularly on this period, nevertheless proposes another version, with supporting documents: Caravaggio would have been attacked in Palo and this attack would have been fatal to him; it would have been committed by emissaries of the Knights of Malta with the tacit agreement of the Roman Curia – and this in spite of the fact that, at the time of his death, Caravaggio was no longer a knight of the Order of Malta
In any case, the precise document of his death certificate, found in 2001 in the register of deaths of the parish of St. Erasmus of Porto Ercole, indicates that he died “in the hospital of Santa Maria Ausiliatrice, as a result of an illness”. We can deduce that he died of “malignant fever”, that is to say a priori of malaria, but lead poisoning does not seem to be excluded. He is probably buried, like all the foreigners who died in this hospital, in the cemetery of San Sebastiano in Porto Ercole.
A few years later, a work involving Italian anthropologists, the microbiologist Giuseppe Cornaglia and teams from a medical university institute in Marseille studied the pulp of several teeth taken from the skeleton exhumed in 2010. By combining three detection methods, the authors demonstrate that this person was a carrier of a staphylococcus aureus that he could have contracted via a wound following a fight. This bacterium could have caused sepsis and death. The study was published in the journal The Lancet infectious diseases in the fall of 2018 and its authors – without affirming that it was indeed Caravaggio himself – believe that the evidence points towards his person and makes the hypothesis of his death credible.
Light and shadow
One of the characteristics of Caravaggio”s painting, just before 1600, is his very innovative use of chiaroscuro (a clear evolution from his early works: “shadows invade the compositions to serve the mystery of religion”). With time, and especially as soon as religious scenes become the majority (after the large paintings of Saint-Louis-des-Français) the backgrounds of his paintings darken until they become a large surface of shadow that contrasts violently with the characters touched by the light. In most cases, the ray of light penetrates the space represented on a plane that coincides with the plane of the painting, along an oblique axis coming from above from the left. Catherine Puglisi thus situates this evolution in Caravaggio”s art around 1600: until the end of the 1590s, the choice is made for a light beam in the background, with reinforced shadows, then after 1600 the light becomes more oriented. She also notes the use (relatively rare for the time) of cast shadows in the late work, which are very elaborate and more precise than for his contemporaries, perhaps thanks to his knowledge of optics.
This specific work on shadows is first of all an echo to themes that are progressively more serious than in his works of the Del Monte period: “the shadows that “come to life” are therefore above all a matter of content”. With a large part of the painting immersed in shadow, the question of the “in-depth” representation of the architecture and the setting is evacuated in favor of the irruption of the figures in a powerful, deliberately quasi-sculptural relief effect, which seems to emerge from the picture plane into the viewer”s space. This use of light and shadow characterizes tenebrism; however, Longhi emphasizes that Caravaggio did not use it to sublimate the human body like Raphael or Michelangelo, nor to obtain the effects of “melodramatic chiaroscuro of Tintoretto”, but rather in a naturalistic approach that removes from Man his function of “eternal protagonist and master of creation”, and pushes Caravaggio to scrutinize for years “the nature of light and shadow according to their incidences”.
In most of Caravaggio”s paintings, the main characters in his scenes or portraits are placed in a dark room, a nocturnal exterior, or simply in an inky blackness with no decoration. Powerful, harsh light from a raised point above the painting, or from the left, and sometimes in the form of several natural and artificial sources (from 1606-1607 onwards) cuts through the figures like one or more spotlights on a theater stage. These characteristics fuel various hypotheses regarding the organization of Caravaggio”s studio: it would be equipped with a top light; its walls would be painted black; it would be installed more or less underground, etc. The use of technical devices such as a camera obscura is also probable according to Longhi (a thesis taken up and developed notably by the painter and photographer David Hockney), although the technical feasibility of this solution remains questionable and subject to debate. It is thus that light becomes in itself a determining element influencing reality (an approach that Longhi again opposes to the “small luminous theaters” of Tintoretto and also El Greco), as in The Vocation of Saint Matthew where the brightness of the light plays a key role in the scene.
In The Martyrdom of St. Matthew (1599-1600), natural light floods through the painting to the center on the white body of the murderer and the light-colored outfits of the martyred saint and the terrified boy, contrasting with the dark clothes of the witnesses in the darkness of what appears to be the choir of a church. The saint spreads his arms as if to welcome light and martyrdom; so the executioner, wearing only a white veil around his waist, seems like an angel descended from heaven in divine light to fulfill God”s purpose-rather than an assassin guided by the hand of the devil. As in The Vocation, the protagonists are not identifiable at first glance, but the darkness creates an indeterminate space in which the powerful presence effect of the violently lit bodies, painted in natural scale with some in contemporary costumes, invites the viewer to emotionally relive the saint”s martyrdom. Ebert-Schifferer emphasizes that it is the direction and quality of the light that constitutes the most striking innovation in Caravaggio”s art: “deliberately oblique, which does not diffuse and illuminates the figures both physically and metaphorically.
These contrasts of light and shadow, which are very pronounced in Caravaggio”s work, are sometimes criticized for their extreme character, which is considered abusive (his near-contemporary Nicolas Poussin detested him immensely, in particular because of these violent contrasts), including by critics well after the 17th century, who often associate the atmosphere of the paintings with the supposed temperament of the painter. Stendhal for example uses these terms:
“Caravaggio, driven by his quarrelsome and dark character, devoted himself to representing objects with very little light by loading the shadows terribly, it seems that the figures live in a prison lit by little light that comes from above.”
– Stendhal, Italian Schools of Painting, The Divan (1823).
A few years later, John Ruskin made a much more radical criticism: “the vile Caravaggio is distinguished only by his preference for candlelight and dark shadows to illustrate and reinforce evil”.
Beyond the distribution of light and shadow in his paintings, Caravaggio was always attentive to the lighting of paintings commissioned for a specific location. This is the case for The Madonna of the Pilgrims and for all of his altar paintings, where Caravaggio takes into account the lighting of the altar from the point of view of a person entering the church. In the case of The Madonna of the Pilgrims, the light comes from the left, and this is indeed what he painted on the picture: the scene is thus inscribed in the real space that we perceive in the church itself. Similarly, in the Entombment, the light seems to come from the drum of the dome of the Chiesa Nuova, pierced by high windows, whereas in the paintings intended for the market the light comes, by convention, from the left.
Work of the color
Very attentive to the luminous effects and the impact of a sober painting, Caravaggio also reduced his means of expression through color. His palette is often considered limited but consistent with his Lombard influence (C. Puglisi), although some specialists consider it quite broad (S. Ebert-Schifferer), but in any case increasingly restricted in his later paintings and always avoiding pure, overly brilliant or bright tones. His mastery of color is remarkable and provokes the admiration of his contemporaries: it is even probable that it is a decisive element in the reform of mannerism and its superficial colors.
Contrary to the practices in vogue at the time, Caravaggio avoided gradations within each tone and was not afraid to juxtapose saturated colors abruptly. An evolution is noticeable at the time of the paintings in the Cerasi chapel, with the passage from a Lombardy-inspired palette to one that relies more on primary colors; the evolution in this area also stems from the refinement of the coordination between the colors and their lighting.
All of his work is done in oil paint, including his only ceiling fresco. However, there are two known cases of the use of a thin layer of egg tempera, which shortens the drying time but also increases the brightness and clarity. The backgrounds are treated in a fairly constant way technically throughout his production, themselves linked to oil and therefore requiring long periods of drying, but with a noticeable evolution from lighter shades (brown, red-brown) to darker ones (dark brown or black). The frequent use of malachite (a green pigment) integrated into the backgrounds disappears after the Neapolitan period to be replaced by very dark pigments (coal black, burnt umber in particular). It is possible that the particular luminosity of Caravaggio”s paintings is due in part to the use of certain gray backgrounds, or to the reservation of light areas when the backgrounds become darker.
In the final execution, the whites are frequently softened by a thin glaze of dark tones made transparent. Ultramarine, which is expensive, is used sparingly; vermilion is often tinted with black and appears much more often than blue. Reds are used in large color patches. Locally, greens and blues are also attenuated by glazes of black. These glazes have the effect of reinforcing the brilliance of the parts they cover while at the same time nuancing the color; to obtain the opposite effect, Caravaggio mixed very fine sand with his colors in order to render such and such a part matte and opaque by contrast with the shiny areas. It seems that the painter was stimulated by these optical effects during his stay with Cardinal Del Monte. The fortune teller in the Capitoline Museums, intended for the cardinal, has a thin layer of quartz sand that prevents unwanted reflections. It is perhaps also at Del Monte”s that Caravaggio would have had access to new pigments: The Young John the Baptist with the Ram (1602) shows traces of barium, which suggests that Caravaggio was experimenting with pigment mixtures with barium sulfate (or “Bologna stone”) that had phosphorescent effects. The outlines of the figures or certain delimitations of adjacent areas are often marked by a thin border made by taking up the color of the background; this is a typical Caravaggio technique, although he was not the only one to use it.
Preparation and technical implementation
From his earliest paintings, it was thought that Caravaggio simply painted what he saw. The artist contributed to the public”s belief that he painted from life without going through the drawing stage, which is highly unusual for an Italian painter of this period. Since no drawings by Caravaggio have been found, and art historians find it difficult to imagine that he did not go through a design phase, the question remains problematic to this day
It is established that Caravaggio was arrested one night in possession of a compass. Ebert-Schifferer recalls that the use of compasses was very common in the preparation of paintings at the time: they symbolized the disegno, both the drawing, as the first stage of the painting, and the intellectual project or intention that resided in that painting. Caravaggio”s first patron in Rome, Giuseppe Cesari, was depicted with one of these compasses in a drawing dated around 1599; in Love Victorious, this instrument is also depicted. Caravaggio could therefore have used them to make precise constructions, as some of them are clearly based on geometrical constructions. However, since no trace of this is to be found on the canvas, Ebert-Schifferer assumes that Caravaggio would have made drawings, which have not been found and which may have been destroyed by the artist. In fact, he must have made preparatory studies that were commissioned in three documented circumstances: for the Cerasi Chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo, for a lost commission from De Sartis, and for The Death of the Virgin. In any case, Caravaggio practiced the abozzo (or abbozzo): the drawing made directly on the canvas, in the form of a brush sketch and possibly with some color. With current techniques, abozzo is only detected by X-ray when it contains heavy metals such as lead white, while other pigments do not appear. Lead white was used on canvases prepared in dark, and Caravaggio did use more or less dark preparations, greenish and then brown, but he would not have used lead white in this possible abozzo practice.
It is also possible, although it has not been established with certainty, that Caravaggio used group stagings in his studio, having the various characters in the scene pose simultaneously; this practice is attested to, for example, in Barocci”s work (according to Bellori), and is a hypothesis readily taken up by Derek Jarman in his 1986 film, Caravaggio.
It is certain, however, that Caravaggio made incisions in his preparations, as well as on the canvas in progress, either with a stylus or with the handle of a brush. He did this for The Cheaters and the first version of The Fortune Teller, and continued to do so until his very last paintings. They remain perceptible in low light with great care. He essentially incised his painting to locate the position of the eyes, the segment of an outline or the corner point of a limb. For contemporary researchers, who are convinced that Caravaggio improvised directly on the motif, these incisions are indicative of marks used to find the pose at each sitting or to “wedge” the figures in paintings with several figures. However, Ebert-Schifferer points out that, apart from the early works, the incisions indicate contours in the half-light or serve to delimit an illuminated area on a body, where the light falls. In these cases, everything seems to indicate that they serve to complete the sketch made in white on the brown background; and, for the parts in the dark, not to lose sight of the outlines eaten up by the shadow during the production of the painting. These different leads show that there is no complete consensus as to the purpose of these incisions.
Some of Caravaggio”s works incorporate technical feats of strength, and may have contributed to his reputation: this is the case of Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto represented on the ceiling of the Villa Ludovisi in Rome (on his only known fresco, executed in oil on plaster), whose extreme foreshortening is particularly elaborate. A great technical difficulty is also solved in the execution of the famous Medusa, of which we know that two versions were produced: the head is represented on a circular and convex tondo (wooden parade shield), which obliges to deform the drawing to follow the angle of the support. Beyond virtuosity, this execution would tend to confirm that Caravaggio based himself on scientific drawings, and studied optical phenomena and mirrors at Cardinal Del Monte. Scientific analyses conducted on the Medusa Murtola, i.e., on the first version that Caravaggio executed, show (by means of reflectography) a particularly detailed work on the preparatory charcoal drawing directly on the prepared support, followed by a brush sketch before the final painting.
From the very beginning, art critics have emphasized the high quality of the execution of certain details – such as the wine cup, the fruit and leaves in Bacchus – and the excellence of the still lifes, whether they are autonomous (Basket of Fruit) or integrated into larger compositions (The Musicians). Caravaggio experimented with different forms and approaches, particularly during his Roman period, when he made decisive artistic experiments, such as with convex mirrors like the one represented in Martha and Mary Magdalene.
Roberto Longhi reminds us that Caravaggio is reputed to have used a mirror in his early paintings; for Longhi, it should not be seen solely as an ordinary tool for self-portraits (of which there are few examples in his early work, apart from the sickly Bacchus and perhaps the Boy Bitten by a Lizard), nor for comparison with the art of the sculptor, who depicts several aspects of the same figure in a single piece: rather, it is a method that gives “the pledge of a certainty Caravaggio to stick to the very essence of the mirror, which frames him with an optical vision already full of truth and devoid of stylistic wanderings.”
Whatever the hypotheses regarding the use of incisions, mirrors or preparatory drawings, the fact remains that Caravaggio”s technique was already considered innovative at the time, but in the end it was not really revolutionary: although very well mastered and increasingly perfected over the years, it is above all in the manner in which this technique is implemented that its singularity lies.
The compositions of Caravaggio”s canvases are an essential element of the character of his work: very early on, he chose to paint naturalistic figures, often arranged in a complex manner in a sober environment, free of unnecessary accessories. Debates about his compositional choices were rekindled in the 1950s, with the first X-rays of the Contarelli Chapel paintings, which revealed certain stages or changes in the structure of the canvases.
For many authors specializing in this period, the two terms realism and naturalism can be used indiscriminately to describe Caravaggio”s painting. However, by remaining as close as possible to the usage of the time, “naturalism” seems more precise, and avoids any confusion with the realism of certain paintings of the 19th century, such as those of Courbet, which have a strong political and social dimension.
Thus, in his preface to André Berne-Joffroy”s Dossier Caravage, Arnault Brejon de Lavergnée refers to Caravaggio”s naturalism and uses this phrase about the early paintings: “Caravaggio treats certain subjects as slices of life. In order to clarify this idea, he quotes Mia Cinotti on the subject of The Sick Young Bacchus (1593), which has been perceived as “an integral realism and a direct cinematographic restitution” by Roberto Longhi, and as “an ”other” reality, a sensitive form of a personal spiritual search in tune with the specific currents of thought and knowledge of the time” by Lionello Venturi. Catherine Puglisi speaks, evoking the reception of the public of the time, of an “aggressive search” of naturalism in his painting.
Caravaggio”s art is based as much on the study of nature as on the work of the great masters of the past. Mina Gregori points out, for example, the references to the Belvedere Torso for the Christ of the Coronation of Thorns (c. 1604-1605) and to another ancient statue for The Madonna of Loreto (1604-1605). Puglisi also points out that throughout his career Caravaggio borrowed not only from Lombard sources, but also from a number of prints inspired by very different artists. Although he practices the mimetic and detailed restitution of forms and materials observable in nature, he does not fail to leave clues underlining the intention of his paintings. He does this by introducing clearly identified quotations and poses recognizable to the initiated. In the later works, on the other hand, the visible brushwork somewhat counteracts the mimetic illusion.
In the case of the early paintings, Mary Magdalene Repentant (1594) and The Rest during the Flight to Egypt (1594), the figures are located slightly away from the picture plane. But in most cases, and in all the mature paintings, the figures are in a short space against the picture plane. Caravaggio clearly aims to establish a close relationship with the viewer, both through proximity to the edge of the painting and through the effects of penetration into the space of the viewer. This is already the case with the thug in the foreground of Les Tricheurs, and then with the feet of the pilgrims in La Vierge du Rosaire and La Madone des Pèlerins; similarly, the figure at the back of the soldier in the Coronation of Thorns represents the viewer, who is thus integrated into the scene he is observing. This same effect of proximity is also achieved through dynamic effects, through the play of instability in the foreground: the basket on the table in The Supper at Emmaus, as well as the stool in Saint Matthew and the Angel, seem ready to fall forward and towards the observer. This virtual overtaking of the canvas plane is concretized by tears in the fabrics (torn sleeves in The Supper at Emmaus and The Incredulity of Saint Thomas).
Moreover, most of these figures – especially in the mature paintings – are painted to scale one, or very close to human scale. A few exceptions are notable, such as the executioner in The Beheading of St. John the Baptist, whose oversizing can be distinguished from the “repulsive” figures that appear in the very foreground of The Martyrdom of St. Matthew (1599-1600) and The Burial of St. Lucy (1608).
The figures are often staged in an unusual way for the time: some look at the viewer, while others have their backs to him: these “repulsive” figures have the function of representing, or holding the place of the viewers in the painting. The spectators of the time are supposed to have the same attitude as these figures that represent them, affectively, emotionally if not physically, like the pilgrims praying before the Virgin of Loreto. Daniel Arasse points out that the feet of these pilgrims, depicted in scale one on the altarpiece, are thus placed at the eye level of the faithful; their appearance must have commanded respect, if not devotion.
Caravaggio”s paintings are distinguished by the absence of any perspective effect on any architecture, in order to privilege the naturalistic observation of his models. Indeed, his choices of direct lighting and accused chiaroscuro can be particularly artificial, as Leonardo da Vinci reminded us before him: a concentration on the model and not on the setting allows a certain naturalistic balance to be restored. Thus, the Madonna of the Pilgrims or Madonna of Loreto (1604-1605) is placed at the door of a house simply indicated by the ashlar opening and by a fragment of wall that has been deliberately removed. This is the door of the holy house of Loreto, the modest home of the Virgin Mary under her reborn Marmorian sarcophagus, which was the object of the greatest Marian pilgrimage in the West for three centuries; but the sobriety of this decoration also allows other interpretations, such as that of the door to Heaven – as in Raphael”s fresco located nearby in the same church of Sant”Agostino. Minimal indications of this type can be found in a number of paintings, such as The Madonna of the Rosary (1605-1606), The Annunciation (1608), The Decollation of St. John the Baptist (1608), The Resurrection of Lazarus (1609) and The Adoration of the Shepherds (1609). All these altar paintings require the indication of an architectural space. The frontal solution, which places the viewer in front of a wall with one or more openings, makes it possible to inscribe horizontal and vertical lines in the painting, which respond to the edges of the canvas and contribute to the affirmation of the pictorial composition in the plane of the wall.
Another painting illustrates Caravaggio”s use of props and background. In Love Victorious the naked boy laughingly treads on the instruments of art and politics; he is depicted in front of a brown background, with a complex and elaborate light, but so indistinct that the wall and the floor merge into one. He personifies Virgil”s verse “Omnia vincit amor” (“Love conquers all”), which was very well known at the time. The Cavalier d”Arpin executed a fresco on this theme, which was also treated by Annibal Carracci on the ceiling of the Farnese Palace. By working on the level of detail in the interweaving of instruments, the broken strings, the indecipherable scores, Caravaggio is undoubtedly alluding to the broken instruments at the feet of Raphael”s Saint Cecilia, which symbolize the vanity of everything. We can deduce that the young boy is a celestial Love who lets himself slip from his seat to stand up to the spectator and challenge him. Man cannot win this game. Moreover, Love holds the world under him: the painter has added the detail of a celestial globe with golden stars. But he used this precious material only exceptionally, probably at the express request of his patron. There may have been a more direct connection with the commissioner in the case of this barely perceptible globe. The latter, Vincenzo Giustiniani, has as his worst enemy the Aldobrandini family – which has a starry globe as its coat of arms – because its debt to Giustiniani is considerable, which has caused the banker to lose considerable sums. Giustiniani would thus have taken revenge by presenting his “Love”, scorning the Aldobrandini symbolized under him. This kind of ironic approach was common at the time.
On the other hand, in order to satisfy the collector and also to compete with his near namesake, Michelangelo, Caravaggio did not fail to allude to the Saint Bartholomew of the Last Judgment and used this complex pose that is easily recognizable. Moreover, the painting responds to another challenge: that of being part of a private collection. The youthfulness of the child”s body must correspond, in Giustiniani”s collection, to an ancient sculpture representing Eros, after Lysippus. Beyond the treatment of the theme, the simplicity of the background is remarkable and typical of Caravaggio”s approach: although it gives every appearance of incompleteness, it is very well worked, as shown by the choice of color modulation; and the absence of separation between the wall and the floor may be a reminder of the scene”s unreality. Another notable absence is that of the symbols of the plastic arts, which are here spared the derision of Love. Caravaggio thus avoids multiplying the accessories but condenses a great quantity of information, symbols and undertones, according to the order he was given and the wishes of his patron.
In Valletta, in the cultural milieu of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Caravaggio returned to the great church paintings for which he was famous. Typically, The Resurrection of Lazarus is very sober in its decor and accessories. Everything lies in the intensity of the gestures, reminiscent of The Vocation of Saint Matthew. Moreover, the painting is nourished by these references, and seems to be addressed to a cultivated elite, aware of the current events of the time. However, unlike The Vocation, the scene is no longer transposed into the contemporary world. The lavish costumes of the stockbrokers of the time are no longer relevant. The first Christians are portrayed in the timeless clothes of the poor, from antiquity to the 17th century. The light, on the other hand, is similar to that of The Vocation. The body of Lazarus falls in a gesture similar to that of Christ in The Entombment. The draperies have the function of underlining the theatrical gestures, by their color (red for Christ) or their value (light blue tones for Lazarus). The expressions go to the extremes: extreme pain on the right, the jostling on the left with the entrance of light, and above the hand of Christ, a man praying intensely, turning towards the light of the Redemption. This is the painter himself, in an explicit self-portrait. There are no trivial details, no unnecessary accessories; the skull on the floor evokes the death of the body. The bare wall responds to the real wall against which the painting stands in the shadow of the Chapel of the Crossbearers in Messina, where it was originally installed.
Myth and reality of the cursed artist
Caravaggio”s work aroused passions as soon as it appeared. It was quickly sought after by the best connoisseurs and collectors. Nevertheless, the painter”s image was permanently marked by a sulphurous reputation, due as much to his extraordinarily violent personality as to his alleged misfortunes with his patrons. Recent research, however, puts many of these points into perspective, showing the extent to which Caravaggio”s early biographers were followed even in their most outrageous approaches.
With regard to rejected paintings, it is clearly established that in Caravaggio”s time, the appreciation of these paintings varied greatly depending on whether they were destined for public display or for a private collection. Luigi Salerno cites the example of The Madonna of the Grooms, which was refused by the clergy but immediately acquired by Cardinal Scipione Borghese.
Some paintings were indeed refused because of their naturalistic audacity, but also for theological reasons. Recent authors such as Salvy cite the examples of Saint Matthew and the Angel, The Conversion of Saint Paul or The Death of the Virgin, emphasizing that these refusals were the work of unenlightened members of the Church, but do not correspond to the judgment of all: “the highest dignitaries of the Church seem to have had a more enlightened and less frightened taste than that of their priests, who were often people of nothing.” These rejected paintings immediately found very good buyers on the private market, like the Marquis Giustiniani for Saint Matthew and the Angel.
Ebert-Schifferer goes further, even questioning the rejections of certain paintings, suggesting that they were not always actually rejected. For example, the first version of Saint Matthew and the Angel was simply installed temporarily on the altar of the church of Saint Louis des Francois in Rome in May 1599, before Vincenzo Giustiniani added it to his collection. The painting, which corresponds perfectly to the indications mentioned in the contract, also recalls Lombard works with which he was familiar in the androgynous figure of the angel, as well as a painting by Giuseppe Cesari of 1597, which the Roman milieu had admired two years earlier. The painting was an immediate success. It temporarily took the place of a sculpture commissioned from Cobaert that had not yet been completed. When the latter was completed, it did not please the clergy of Saint-Louis-des-Français. The sculpture was withdrawn and part of the sum, withheld from the sculptor”s fees, was used to pay Caravaggio for the final painting, which eventually formed a triptych with the Martyrdom and the Vocation of St. Matthew, installed on either side of the altarpiece: Caravaggio received 400 ecus for this triple commission, a very large sum for the time. In the new contract, the painter was described as “Magnificus Dominus”, “illustrious master”. On the other hand, Giovanni Baglione, one of Caravaggio”s earliest and most influential biographers, but also his declared enemy, pretended to confuse sculpture and painting: he therefore claimed that the painting of the first version of the Saint Matthew and the Angel had displeased everyone.
Caravaggio”s most famous painting in the Louvre, The Death of the Virgin, suffered a similar fate: rumors continued to circulate that the painting had displeased the monks because of the Virgin”s bare feet and overly human body. According to Ebert-Schifferer, the reality is somewhat different: the painting was indeed removed, but it was first hung and admired. It was received and appreciated by its patron, and it remained on the altar for some time. The Discalced Carmelites were not displeased with it, as has been said repeatedly. They had no problem with the bare feet and poverty of the early Christians depicted in the painting. These monks sought to imitate the life of these Christians who served as their models, as they sought to imitate the life of Jesus. They vowed to go barefoot in simple sandals, following the spirit of the Catholic Reformation. The Virgin appears simply clothed in the painting, with the body of an ordinary woman, no longer very young – which is correct – nor very slender, which is acceptable. And the painting conforms, even in detail, to Charles Borromeo”s indications for the gesture of Mary Magdalene hiding her face. However, at the time of the hanging, it was rumored that it was a courtesan who posed for the Virgin. The person or persons who spread this rumor had every interest in having the painting removed from the church. However, two enterprising collectors came forward to buy the painting as soon as it was removed. This clever maneuver does not mean that the painting is scandalous or revolutionary: on the contrary, it underlines the highly appreciated novelty of the artist”s work. It is almost inevitable that Caravaggio, like any other painter in Rome, used a courtesan as a model in all his paintings of female figures in a naturalistic manner, as “honorable” Roman women were forbidden to pose. The vast majority of sixteenth-century painters who practiced the imitation of nature, with a more or less pronounced idealization, used ancient sculptures as models. Caravaggio had to type the natural model (as did his predecessors, Antonio Campi for example) so that it could not be identified.
Salvy also points out the inconsistency of certain rejections, in particular those of the paintings for the Cerasi Chapel (in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo): The Conversion of St. Paul and The Crucifixion of St. Peter. In fact, these two painted wooden panels were rejected but then replaced by canvases, this time accepted; yet it seems obvious that the second version of The Conversion is even less conventional or “suitable” than the first. This can be explained by the power of the patron, “able to impose his tastes on an ignorant lowly clergyman resistant to anything new,” but Salvy indicates that this also tends to prove paradoxically the success of Caravaggio, since it is always he who is approached to produce a second version of the contested works, instead of soliciting another more conventional painter.
Recent research by leading scholars has put into perspective the allegations that tend to disqualify Caravaggio and his painting, according to a tradition that goes back to his contemporaries and in particular to Baglione. These ancient texts must be confronted with contemporary documents found in the archives. Brejon de Lavergnée notes that Ebert-Schifferer”s method involves a close analysis of the sources (Van Mander, Giulio Mancini, Baglione, and Bellori), and that such an analysis calls into question the most widespread cliché about Caravaggio: his violent character. This cliché stems from a text by the Dutchman Van Mander, published in 1604, which portrays the painter as a man always ready to fight and cause trouble. However, a study of the police reports of the time suggests that Van Mander was misinformed and mistook for Caravaggio what was alleged against his friend and alter ego, Onorio Longhi, who, at the end of 1600, had indeed undergone three months of interrogation for a whole series of offenses. It has been established that the two complaints against Caravaggio were dismissed. The fact that he carried a sword was reproached, but this is explained by placing the artist in his social context. Van Mander and Van Dijck, who noted the fact, were surprised because they were foreigners. The work has been discredited as much as the painter, and curiously enough because of its success.
Even if it is certain that Caravaggio did indeed commit homicide and that he regularly showed himself to be aggressive and touchy, it is important to put his morals into the context of the time, and to be discerning so as not to necessarily equate his lifestyle with his artistic choices. On this last point, an objective look at the works of the Neapolitan and Sicilian period (i.e. after having fled Rome) does not allow us to perceive guilt or inner torment in an obvious way. Ebert-Schifferer bases this analysis on the observation of two paintings: Saint Francis in Meditation on the Crucifix (probably 1606), which immediately follows his flight, and The Resurrection of Lazarus (1609), painted in Messina. She shows the limits of the hypothesis according to which the artist signifies his repentance in the suffering face of St. Francis: “such an identification rests on the assumption that the desperate painter would have wanted to represent his repentance here. However, Francis is not at all tormented by his conscience; he only identifies himself with the Passion of Christ. Similarly, in Sicily: “There is apparently no reason to believe that the murder of Ranuccio Tomassoni weighed heavily on his conscience. The self-portrait included in the Resurrection of Lazarus, as in his earlier paintings, attests that he considered himself a convinced Christian and not a man in the grip of foreboding and morbid thoughts, as is almost universally admitted.” This does not mean that Caravaggio did not suffer from his exile, nor from certain setbacks such as the loss of his knighthood, which certainly troubled him; but it is undoubtedly abusive to interpret his work through this prism.
As for Caravaggio”s frequently touchy and violent attitude – again, as attested by various documents and trial minutes – some contextual elements should be taken into account before jumping to conclusions about their extraordinary character. The morals of the young Roman aristocracy of the time may indeed have led to attitudes of this type, and often benefited from the benevolence of institutions, as evidenced by the pardon granted by the pope to Caravaggio despite the blood crime of which he was guilty. Thus, the illegitimate use of the sword, which led to his imprisonment in Rome, was to be considered a minor offence for the time. This fact can be compared to the conventions and values shared by nobles and even lesser nobles, for whom the code of honor means that one can be discredited for life if one does not respond to an affront. The era is very violent with a certain fascination for death. These codes are widely shared in many countries of Christendom.
Ebert-Schifferer sums up his point of view in the following terms: “It is therefore a mistake to judge Caravaggio”s misdemeanors, which were quite ordinary for the time, as the expression of a personality disorder that was also reflected in his works. These misdemeanors did not prevent any of his lovers, however pious, from commissioning paintings from him, quite the contrary.
Be that as it may, the work of depreciation undertaken by Caravaggio”s early biographers (foremost among them his enemy Giovanni Baglione, taken up by Bellori) was effective, and undoubtedly contributed to a lessening of the appreciation of the essential role he played in the art world. It was not until the beginning of the 20th century, and the work of passionate specialists such as Roberto Longhi and Denis Mahon, that the importance of Caravaggio”s work and the extent of his influence on the visual arts of the following centuries were recognized.
“Having had no teacher, he had no students.”
– Roberto Longhi
Longhi”s pleasant shortcut, which undoubtedly deserves to be tempered, means both that Caravaggio managed to create his own style from pre-existing influences, thus surpassing any “master” who might have guided or preceded him, but also that he did not constitute a school around him, strictly speaking. Longhi prefers to speak of a “circle” to which equally free spirits belong. Already during Caravaggio”s lifetime, his ideas and techniques were taken up by a multitude of painters of different European origins, but all gathered in Rome, often grouped together under the name of Caravaggio”s followers, due to the success of the master”s paintings as well as the variants subsequently produced for collectors, but also due to their high price. Caravaggio”s few close friends and numerous followers took hold of what they perceived to be the “Manfrediana methodus”, i.e., the method of Manfredi, a painter whose life is not well documented and who may have been Caravaggio”s servant during part of the Roman period. It is also possible, though not certain, that Mario Minniti and the mysterious Cecco (alias Francesco Buoneri?) were direct collaborators or students.
The current of Caravaggio”s work was very rich and varied throughout the 17th century. The very first imitators of the Caravaggesque style were not all free of mockery, as Baglione rudely experienced with his Resurrection, mocked by Gentileschi and by Caravaggio himself in 1603; others successfully integrated Caravaggesque elements, but in a more or less intensive way. The Flemish painter Rubens, for example, was inspired by Italian painting as much as by Caravaggio”s without imitating it; others, such as the Roman painter Orazio Borgianni or the Neapolitan Caracciolo, came considerably closer to the master”s intentions.
After Caravaggio”s death, a second wave of followers emerged during the decade from 1615 to 1625, following Bartolomeo Manfredi in particular, and including a number of Flemish painters such as the little-known Matthias Stom, or Gerrit van Honthorst (“Gerard of the Nights”) – so much so that a particular Caravaggesque school, later called the “Utrecht School”, was created around these various northern painters. This was a period of considerable diffusion throughout Europe of Caravaggio”s paintings for private use, not only to the North but also to France and Spain, via the region of Naples, which was under Spanish rule at the time: the Saint Serapion by the Spaniard Francisco de Zurbarán in 1628 is an example of a vibrant homage to Caravaggio”s art.
The third decade was essentially the last great period of European Caravaggism, with newcomers to Rome such as the Frenchmen Valentin de Boulogne, Simon Vouet and Giovanni Serodine from Ticino; However, the spirit of Caravaggio survives in more than one way, notably in certain painters of small formats with “burlesque” subjects gathered under the name of “bamboccianti”, but also in important painters who follow the movement in a later way (Georges de La Tour) or by taking very different ways, which can even question their integration to Caravaggio (Diego Velasquez, Rembrandt). A certain ambivalence is common for many painters during the century, between the attraction for the power of Caravaggio”s art and other elements of contemporary attraction such as Venetian luminism, mannerism, etc. The diversity of Louis Finson”s style is an example of this, as he is often considered one of the closest disciples of the master Caravaggio.
At the same time, and after these Caravaggesque schools, Caravaggio”s influence did not die out: many painters as important as Georges de La Tour, Velázquez and Rembrandt expressed their interest in Caravaggio”s work in their paintings or engravings. Afterwards, his importance in art criticism and art history diminished until the 19th century. Caravaggio had an obvious influence on David, an influence affirmed by the artist whose first major work (Saint Roch interceding for the Virgin) is an exact copy of the posture of the pilgrim in The Madonna of the Pilgrims, just as his Marat is inspired by the Vatican”s Entombment.
René Jullian refers to him as one of the spiritual fathers of the nineteenth-century realist school: “the realism that flourished in the middle of the nineteenth century found its natural patron in Caravaggio. Caravaggio”s naturalist approach, seen from a realist perspective in the eyes of nineteenth-century artists, is echoed in the works of Géricault, Delacroix, Courbet and Manet. Roberto Longhi also emphasizes the close links between Caravaggio and modern realism, stating that “Courbet was directly inspired by Caravaggio”; Longhi extends this influence to the still lifes of Goya, Manet and Courbet, among others.
Some important painters of the 21st century, such as Peter Doig, still claim to be Caravaggio. In another field of artistic expression, many photographers and film directors recognize the influence of Caravaggio on some of their choices of expression. This is the case, for example, of Martin Scorsese, who acknowledges that he owes a great deal to Caravaggio, notably in his films Mean Streets and The Last Temptation of Christ. But filmmakers as different as Pedro Costa, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Derek Jarman are also concerned. In terms of cinematic style, Italian neorealist cinema is undoubtedly the one that benefits most directly from Caravaggio”s posthumous influence. Art historian Graham-Dixon states in his book Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane that “Caravaggio can be considered a pioneer of modern cinema.”
As no drawings by Caravaggio have ever been found, all of his known work consists of paintings. In early censuses, between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, more than 300 paintings are listed as being attributed to him; but Roberto Longhi”s estimate is much more modest: “all told, about a hundred paintings.” This number fell to around 80 in 2014, knowing that many have been lost or destroyed. Within this group, about sixty works are unanimously recognized by the community of Caravaggio specialists, and a few others are more or less disputed as to their attribution.
Like most artists of this period, Caravaggio leaves no date or signature on his paintings, with two exceptions: The Decollation of St. John the Baptist, which is symbolically signed with the depiction of blood spurting at the bottom of the painting, and the first version (authenticated in 2012. Attributions are complicated by the fact that it was common practice at the time for some artists to execute copies or variants of their successful paintings-which Caravaggio did for several of his works, such as The Fortune Teller-but also that other artists might be commissioned to make copies of highly regarded paintings. Extensive stylistic and physico-chemical analyses (notably infrared reflectography and autoradiographic examination, which allow us to perceive the early or earlier stages beneath the final painting), combined with archival research, make it possible to approach a fairly accurate catalog of Caravaggio”s work.
In addition to works that may have disappeared during Caravaggio”s lifetime or after his death, three of his known paintings were destroyed or stolen in Berlin in 1945, at the end of the Second World War. These are St. Matthew and the Angel (the first version for the Contarelli Chapel, which was temporarily exhibited before its private purchase and later replaced by a second version), Portrait of a Courtesan and Christ on the Mount of Olives. In addition, the Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence was stolen from the museum in Palermo in 1969 (probably by the Sicilian mafia) and has never been found since. Finally, it is possible that three paintings installed in the church of Sant”Anna dei Lombardi in Naples disappeared in an earthquake in 1798: they could be a Saint John, a Saint Francis and a Resurrection.
In early 2006, a controversy arose over two paintings found in 1999 in the church of Saint-Antoine de Loches in France. They are a version of The Supper at Emmaus and a version of The Incredulity of Saint Thomas. Their authenticity, affirmed by the art historian José Frèches, is contradicted by another Caravaggio historian, the Briton Clovis Whitfield, for whom they are by Prospero Orsi, by Maria Cristina Terzaghi, professor at the University of Rome III, She is also a Caravaggio specialist, who does not know to whom they should be attributed, and by Pierre Rosenberg, former director of the Louvre, and Pierre Curie, curator of the Inventory and connoisseur of 17th century Italian painting, who consider them to be old 17th century copies. The municipality of Loches, which supports the hypothesis that the paintings were made by the artist, points out that Caravaggio often executed several versions of the same painting, even going so far as to make quasi-copies with only a few different details, and that they do indeed appear in an autograph inventory of Philippe de Béthune from 1608 indicating two original paintings by Caravaggio. The coat of arms of Bethune is painted on the paintings. They have been classified as historical monuments since 2002 as copies.
In London, a new work by Caravaggio was authenticated in 2006, and then again considered a copy of a lost painting. Relegated to the basement of the Royal Collection at Buckingham Palace, this painting, entitled The Vocation of St. Peter and St. Andrew, was attributed to Caravaggio in November 2006 and exhibited for the first time in March 2007 in an exhibition devoted to Italian art. The canvas, which measures 140 cm high and 176 cm wide, has just been restored. However, the Royal Collection”s website indicates that it is a copy after Caravaggio, and also offers the alternative title of Peter, James and John.
In 2010 in the Vatican, a painting representing the martyrdom of St. Lawrence and belonging to the Jesuits is claimed to be by Caravaggio. However, this attribution does not stand up to analysis for long.
On July 5, 2012, a hundred drawings and some paintings made in his youth were reportedly found by experts in a collection inside the Sforzesco Castle in Milan. This attribution, questioned by almost all specialists of the painter, is very unlikely.
In April 2016, two experts revealed that a painting found by chance two years earlier in the Toulouse area might be by Caravaggio. This painting is a version of Judith and Holofernes, previously known only from the hand of Louis Finson, identified as a copy of a lost original by Caravaggio. The attribution of this painting to Caravaggio is supported by certain specialists who, based on X-ray analysis, assert that it is not a copy but an original, without however eliciting a consensus among experts. However, the importance of this discovery quickly convinced the French Ministry of Culture to classify the painting as a “national treasure” and to issue a ban on leaving the country, pending further analysis. In the end, the painting was not acquired by the French state because of doubts about its attribution – especially since the sellers announced an extremely high price; but it was sold in 2019 to J. Tomilson Hill, a wealthy American collector, for a sum that was not revealed to the public but that would be 96 million euros ($110 million).
From November 10, 2016 to February 5, 2017, the Pinacoteca di Brera is organizing an exhibition in the form of a confrontation between attributed paintings and others in debate of attribution: “Terzo dialogo. Attorno a Caravaggio”.
In September 2017, noting the proliferation of more or less fanciful attributions supported by experts with sometimes dubious qualifications, the Borghese Gallery in Rome announced its decision to launch an institute dedicated to Caravaggio, the Caravaggio Research Institute, which is to offer both a research center on the painter”s work but also a program of international exhibitions. The luxury goods company Fendi has joined the project as a sponsor, at least for the launch and the first three years.
In April 2021, an auction in Spain made headlines with the sale of an Ecce Homo: an anonymous painting, entitled The Coronation of Thorns and attributed to the “Ribera entourage”, was offered in the middle of a large sale of various works, with an initial estimate of 1,500 euros according to the auction house”s catalog. However, the painting did not end up in the auction room, as the Spanish State intervened beforehand; in fact, this work could be a new autograph painting by Caravaggio, according to such notable experts as Professor Maria Cristina Terzaghi, who evoked the possibility of a 1605 commission for Cardinal Massimo Massimi (a possibility that was explored in detail by Professor Massimo Pulini, one of the first to identify the Caravaggio touch in the painting). The action of the Spanish Ministry of Culture blocked the sale and export of the painting pending further research. This first step was initially precautionary, but after several months of investigation the Ministry decided to grant the painting the title of “property of cultural interest,” thus confirming that the question of attribution to Caravaggio was serious, if not certain. The Spanish state reserves the right to pre-empt any sale of the painting.
Thousands of works have been written about Caravaggio, but only one biographer mentions his name in a work published during the painter”s lifetime: the Dutchman Carel van Mander, who published his Schilder-boeck in 1604. From this first mention, Caravaggio”s morals were judged with a severity that was heightened by the cultural difference between the Dutch author and the Roman artistic milieu. In 1615 (five years after Caravaggio”s death), his name was again mentioned in two new publications on pictorial theory, one by Mgr Agucchi, who aimed to defend an idealizing classical painting against Caravaggio”s imitation of Nature, and the other by the painter Giulio Cesare Gigli, who evoked Caravaggio”s “whimsical” character but also quoted some praise for him.
The following work is essential, as it is the first true biography that left a lasting mark on Caravaggio”s reputation. It was written by Giulio Mancini, a physician and art lover from Siena, whose treatise entitled Considerations on Painting was published posthumously in 1619. He testifies to Caravaggio”s success in Rome, admiring his “great spirit” and evoking certain “extravagances” in his attitude, but he makes every effort not to peddle any negative legend about him. Nevertheless, a brief and almost illegible note added later mentions a one-year prison sentence for an “offence” committed in Milan. This detail, the veracity of which is highly doubtful, was subsequently taken up and greatly amplified by Caravaggio”s opponents. At the forefront of his enemies was Giovanni Baglione, who, after having been in open conflict with Caravaggio during his lifetime, wrote his own biography of the painter around 1625, which was published in 1642 and permanently tarnished Caravaggio”s reputation.
Giovanni Pietro Bellori thus referred to Baglione”s accusations of immorality when he wrote his own biography of Caravaggio in his famous work Vite dei pittori, scultori ed architetti moderni, completed in 1645 but published twenty years later. Following in the footsteps of Monsignor Agucchi, he poses as a defender of an ideal beauty linked to an irreproachable way of life, and violently criticizes Caravaggio, “who died as badly as he lived”: in reality, he is aiming especially at the Caravaggioists who followed him. Nevertheless, it provides a good deal of useful information on Caravaggio”s life, work and patrons. Other works were published throughout the 17th century, frequently repeating Bellori”s accusatory assertions in order to confirm Caravaggio”s role in the supposed ruin of painting (e.g. Scaramuccia in 1674, or the Bolognese Malvasia four years later). A few publications, though much rarer, nevertheless exist that express a more clearly laudatory opinion of Caravaggio”s art, including Joachim von Sandrart”s Teutsche Academie.
Paradoxically, it is possible to consider that Caravaggio”s popularity from the twentieth century onwards is still largely based on Bellori”s manipulation, according to the post-Romantic principle that genius and criminality (or madness) are in close proximity.
In the twentieth century, the renewed interest of the public and art historians in Caravaggio owes much to Roberto Longhi, who from 1926 onwards published a series of analyses of Caravaggio, his entourage, his predecessors and followers (Longhi played a major role in linking the painter to his typically Lombard sources, just as he identified the harmful role of the early biographers in his critical fate: “criticism gets stuck in the swamp of Bellori”s “Idea” and remains there, busy croaking against the artist, until the time of neoclassicism”. Alongside or following him, many historians and critics from all over the world took an interest in Caravaggio and published numerous works on his subject, notably in the Burlington Magazine. Spike, the Italians Lionello Venturi, Mina Gregori, Maurizio Marini and Maurizio Calvesi, the Americans Catherine Puglisi, Helen Langdon and Richard Spear, the Germans Walter Friedländer, Sybille Ebert-Schifferer and Sebastian Schütze, the Austrian Wolfgang Kallab, etc.
The Bank of Italy printed a 100,000 lira bill featuring Caravaggio during the years 1990-1997. The Republic of San Marino created several coins in homage to Caravaggio in 2010, and then one in 2018 that features the scene of the supper at Emmaus.
Postage stamps depicting paintings by Caravaggio, or portraits of Caravaggio himself, are issued in Italy and in many other countries.
Among the tributes linked to the 400th anniversary of his death, the city of Rome is organizing an exceptional exhibition of Caravaggio”s paintings in the Quirinal Palace in 2010.
A funerary monument was dedicated to him in July 2014 in the village of Porto Ercole where he died in 1610, despite strong criticism and doubts about the authenticity of the bones kept there.
Between 2015 and 2018, comic book author Milo Manara published two volumes of a historical comic book dedicated to the painter at Glénat: Caravaggio.
: document used as a source for the writing of this article.