Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio is one of the most admired painters of the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Known for his powerful, dramatically lit compositions, Caravaggio depicted violence and the human form with a degree of realism unprecedented at the time. He was among the most famous painters in Rome—but not only because of his skill as an artist.
Caravaggio was also notorious for his wild life and shocking temper. After being sentenced to death for murder, he fled Rome and died in exile at age 38 . Three biographies written in the decades after his death constitute nearly all that is known about the enigmatic artist.
In this episode, Getty curator and expert on Italian painting Davide Gasparatto discusses Caravaggio and the role these early biographies, by Giulio Mancini, Giovanni Baglione, and Giovanni Pietro Bellori, played in defining Caravaggio’s legacy.
Caravaggio & Bernini: The Discovery of Emotions features some of the artists’ greatest works, but also charts their influence on others. And that influence proved to be powerful and enduring. Caravaggistas spread across Europe like termites. And so we could call this exhibition a battle of the swaggerers, the pomp of a very eclectic brand of Viennese historicism facing off against the theatrical push and preen of two great Italians.
From almost the beginning, Caravaggio, that man who arrived in Rome in the 1590s, is completely outrageous. Whom did he think were his principal patrons? Churchmen, of course. Did they care that he depicted John the Baptist in an extraordinary painting, circa 1602, as a carefree, lascivious, curly-haired boy with the cheekiest of grins imaginable?