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Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio

Caravaggio, Michelangelo Merisi da (mēkālänˈjālō mārēˈzē dä kärävädˈjō) [key] or Amerigi da Caravaggio äˌmārēˈjē, 1571–1610, Italian painter. His surname, Caravaggio, came from his birthplace. After an apprenticeship in Milan, he arrived (1592) in Rome where he eventually became a retainer of Cardinal Francesco del Monte, for whom he produced several paintings, among them the Concert of Youths (Metropolitan Mus.). Most of Caravaggio's genre pieces, such as the Fortune Teller (Louvre), are products of his early Roman years, for after completing the Calling of St. Matthew and the Martyrdom of St. Matthew (c.1598–99; San Luigi de' Francesi, Rome), he devoted himself almost exclusively to religious compositions and portraiture. His violent temper and erratic disposition involved him in numerous scrapes and brawls, and in 1606 he fled Rome after killing a young man in a duel. A death sentence was imposed in absentia by the pope. He spent the last four years of his life in Naples, Malta, Syracuse, and Messina.

A revolutionary in art, Caravaggio was accused of imitating nature at the expense of ideal beauty. In religious scenes his use of models from the lower walks of life and his portrayal of Roman street life in a religious context were considered irreverent. He generally worked directly on the canvas, a violation of then-current artistic procedure. He and his work were almost universally disparaged and deplored in his era, but his strong chiaroscuro technique of partially illuminating figures against a dark background was immediately adopted by his contemporaries, and although he had no pupils, the influence of his art was enormous.

See biographies by H. Hibbard (1983), D. Seward (1998), H. Langdon (1999), P. Robb (2000), F. Prose (2005), and A. Graham-Dixon (2011); study by B. Berenson (1954); W. Friedlaender, Caravaggio Studies (1955, repr., 1970); M. Kitson, Complete Paintings of Caravaggio (1986); M. Fried, The Moment of Caravaggio (2010); C. Whitfield, Caravaggio's Eye (2011); S. Ebert-Schifferer, Caravaggio: The Artist and His Work (2012).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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