Wednesday, September 29, 2010

In Memoriam: Caravaggio

Caravaggio - the artist formerly known as Michelangelo Merisi - gave Renaissance art a new degree of naturalism, and so he is often credited as the first of the Baroque painters; so accurate are his works that scientists studying one, of a basket of fruit, were able to deduce an agricultural blight in the year it was painted, based solely on the spots he'd thoughtfully included on their leaves.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketAnother level of realism Caravaggio brought to the art world was that of his bad boy persona - possibly brought on by bipolar disorder, which was still undefined in those times. Contemporaries describe him as disappearing into his studio for weeks at a time, during which he worked at a furious pace; he would eventually emerge, swaggering, ready for a booze-up, some slap and tickle, and a brawl.

Though he was called 'the most famous painter in Rome', he lived there barely six years, from 1600 until he was forced to leave after killing Ranuccio Tomassoni in one of his famous brawls in May 1606; he was forced to flee Sicily in 1607, Malta in 1608, and Naples in 1609 for similar reasons. He died in Tuscany in 1610, aged only 38. The circumstances surrounding his death, naturally, are mysterious; for one thing, his corpse was never found.

His reputation at the time of his death was enormous, yet within decades where he wasn't largely forgotten he was often slandered; it wouldn't be until the 1920s that his name and abilities were re-introduced and many of his mis-attributed paintings were re-attributed. Despite his lack of favour, he influenced Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Delacroix. Today he is considered second only to that other Michelangelo in the contributions he made during his cultural moment.

Only about 50 of Caravaggio's works survive, which is still a staggering body of work, given their sizes. His works are renowned for their use of ordinary people (and often his fellow artists) as models, their psychological elements, and use of darkness and shadow (called chiaroscuro). Likewise, they are notorious for their homoeroticism, and even in his lifetime were held in contempt for the so-called vulgarity of their realism.
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