Caravaggio, or Michelangelo Merisi, was an Italian painter who is considered one of the fathers of modern painting.
Who Was Caravaggio?
Caravaggio was a controversial and influential Italian artist. He was orphaned at age 11 and apprenticed with a painter in Milan.
He moved to Rome, where his work became popular for the tenebrism technique he used, which used shadow to emphasize lighter areas. His career, however, was short-lived. Caravaggio killed a man during a brawl and fled Rome. He died not long after, on July 18, 1610.
‘The Calling of Saint Matthew’ 1600
This masterpiece by Caravaggio shows the very moment in which Jesus inspired Matthew to follow him. Standing alongside Saint Peter, Jesus points at Matthew, who is sitting at a table with four other men. It is evident that Caravaggio was inspired by the real world in most of his art and this work is no exception, as he anchors the biblical scene in a modern reality. It is also possible that he was influenced by Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel painting of God, pointing directly towards Adam to awaken him.
‘Judith Beheading Holofernes’ 1599
‘Judith Beheading Holofernes’ represents the first time Caravaggio chose to depict such a dramatic subject. He captured the moment of decapitation with dramatic flair by using lighting from the side against an inky, black background. The realism of the scene is undeniable, marked especially by the facial expressions of the figures. Holofernes contorts his body and screams, while Judith’s expression reveals a mix of determination and repulsion. In fact, the realism of the painting has led some to believe that Caravaggio was influenced by the highly publicized execution of Beatrice Cenci in Rome in 1599.
The story of Narcissus comes from Greco-Roman mythology. The most popular version is from Ovid's Metamorphosis 3.5, from which Caravaggio's interpretation is taken. Legend has it that Narcissus was the preternaturally beautiful son of the nymph Leiriope and the river god Cephissus.