Caravaggio was a globally renowned Italian painter of the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Known for his intense and unsettling art pieces, he briefly trained as a painter in Milan before relocating to Rome in 1592 for the rest of his artistic career. After fleeing Rome for committing murder, he lived out his final years in exile, shuttling between Naples, Malta, and Sicily until he passed away in 1610.
Art critics have characterized Caravaggio’s art by combining realistic observations of the human state, both physical and emotional, with bold use of lighting and shadows, both of which had formative influences on Baroque painting. It’s an art technique that relies heavily on contrast, movement, deep colors, and vivid details to achieve a deep sense of emotion.
Caravaggio’s legacy can be seen in the heavy influence his art had on the works of other artists called the “Caravaggisti” or “Caravaggesque .”He developed a big name as an artist, and at the peak of his artistry in Rome between 1600 and 1606, he was even referred to as the “most famous artist in Rome .”However, he had another reputation as a violent, touchy, and provocative man.
Asides from his art, there are several other interesting things to learn about Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio; such as his early life as a background for the artist we have come to know. On September 29th, 1571, he was born in Milan, Italy, the eldest of four children born to Fermo Merisi and Lucia Aratori.
The Merisis led a relatively privileged life with Fermo, the family’s patriarch, working as a majordomo (household administrator) for the mighty Sforza family of Milan. After escaping the bubonic plague in Milan, Fermo worked as an architect-decorator for the Marchese of Caravaggio. Sadly, fleeing Milan proved futile as Caravaggio’s father, uncle, and grandfather later succumbed to the plague In 1577.
At 13, Caravaggio began his 4-year apprenticeship with Simone Peterzano, a local artist in Milan. During this time, Caravaggio certainly would have familiarized himself with Milan’s art treasures, a style rich in simplicity and naturalistic detail. However, after studying the fundamentals of Peterzano’s craft, Caravaggio left Milan for Rome in 1592.
He took up residence with Pandolfo Pucci on arriving in Rome, a miserly man known as “monsignor Insalata .”Afterward, he began doing minor tasks for the very successful Giuseppe Cesari, Pope Clement VIII’s favorite artist.
Boy with a Basket of Fruit – Caravaggio
Determined to make his way, Caravaggio quit his work with Cesari in 1594 and started painting small still-lifes and evocative portraits of young boys such as Boy With a Basket of Fruit and Sick Bacchus, for the free market. His widely popular piece, The Cardsharps, was imitated severally and caught the attention of Cardinal del Monte, a wealthy art enthusiast who acquired the painting, and The Fortune Teller, another one of Caravaggio’s paintings.
The Cardinal also used his influence to secure Caravaggio’s important public commissions needed to launch this career. The first commission came in 1599 when Rome was filled with opportunities for artists to protest the threat of Protestantism. For the Contarelli Chapel in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi, Caravaggio was commissioned to paint a series of eight paintings depicting the life of Saint Matthew.
Caravaggio’s art was also hugely successful despite its controversy, attracting many admiring patrons and artists alike. Caravaggio was beginning to establish himself as a successful artist at this time, and soon his work was beginning to be sought after. Some of Caravaggio’s famous paintings were produced at this height of success.
In addition to its intense realism, another prominent feature in Caravaggio’s works is his incorporation of violent struggles, torture, and death through the repeated usage of skulls and macabre imagery in many of his famous paintings like Saint Francis in Prayer and Saint Jerome in Meditation. This portrayal of death is called “Memento Mori,” an art style that uses skulls as its prominent motif.
Caravaggio’s paintings remain of great value in today’s world, with several of them being offered at various auctions for pricey figures ranging from $5,549 to $123,873, depending on the size and medium of the artwork.
The record price for Caravaggio’s paintings was previously pegged at $123,873 when in 2013, his work Saint Jerome sold for that same amount at an auction in Dorotheum, Vienna. However, in 2019 a long-lost painting by the artist (Judith and Holofernes, 1607) estimated at up to $170m (€140m) was discovered in an old attic in Toulouse and subsequently snatched up by an anonymous buyer two days before it was due to go on auction.
Additionally, in 2022 a newly discovered piece known as The Crowning of Thorns, believed to have been painted by Caravaggio, was pulled from an auction in Madrid. According to the Museo Nacional del Prado art curators, there was “sufficient stylistic and documentary evidence” to imply it could be an original Caravaggio painting. As a result, the regional government of Madrid recently granted the painting a status of protection, declaring it an item of cultural interest.
The Crowning with Thorns – Caravaggio
The 17th-century oil painting depicting Jesus in a crown of thorns before his crucifixion was due to go on sale at Ansorena auction house on April 8th with a starting price of $1,800 (€1,500), but if indeed it turns out to be by Michelangelo Caravaggio, it could be worth up to a whopping €150m. However, the Spanish government blocked the auction, declaring the painting “not for export.”
As a result of both painting discoveries (Judith and Holofernes and The Crowning of Thorns), the value of Caravaggio’s paintings has increased. Caravaggio’s paintings reflect the artist’s genius and skill in his craft. Their importance in today’s world befits such masterpieces created by an artist of immense talent like Caravaggio.