His surname, Caravaggio, came from his birthplace. After an apprenticeship in Milan, he arrived in Rome where he eventually became a pensioner 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, but after completing the Calling of St. Matthew and the Martyrdom of St. Matthew (c.1598–99; San Luigi de' Francesi), he devoted himself almost exclusively to religious compositions and portraiture. His violent temper and erratic disposition involved him in several brawls, and in 1606 he fled Rome after killing a young man in a duel. 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 was considered irreverent. He generally worked directly on the canvas, a violation of current artistic procedure. 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 biography by Howard Hibbard (1983); study by Bernard Berenson (1954); Walter Friedlaender, Caravaggio Studies (1955, repr., 1970); Michael Kitson, Complete Paintings of Caravaggio (1986).
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