This lesson will explore the vast repertoire of artworks that Caravaggio has contributed to in the Baroque period. His influence spread far outside of Italy, gaining followers in Utecht, Flanders, and France. Students will be introduced to artworks that will enhance their understanding of the innovative painting techniques used by Caravaggio.
Description: Michelangelo Merisi, known more commonly as Caravaggio (c.1571-1610), was an early seventeenth-century Italian painter whose unconventional painting techniques inspired a generation of artists referred to as the Caravaggisti. His influence spread far outside of Italy, gaining followers in Utecht, Flanders, and France. Despite the reach of his influence, he never opened a workshop or took on any formal apprentices.
Caravaggio’s radical realism, evident in the fine details of his figures often presented in moth-eaten clothes or with smudges of dirt on their faces, set him apart from his contemporaries. His dramatic use of tenebrism (the shift from light to dark to produce a murky quality) was not only innovative, as it produced highly dramatic and emotional compositions, but also longstanding, inspiring artists such as Artemisia and Orazio Gentilleschi.
Caravaggio’s eccentric and at times violent behavior also contributed to his reputation as an artist, and influenced the style of painting that would become unequivocally linked with the Baroque period. He was notorious for brawling and public drunkenness—his name appears in police records on countless occasions. Caravaggio's violent behavior culminated in the death, perhaps accidental, of a young man, leading to the artist’s exile to Naples in 1606 where he was outside the jurisdiction of Rome and protected by a wealthy family: the Colonna’s. His connection with the Colonna family resulted in a stream of commissions in Naples, before he moved to Malta where he likewise received fortuitous patronage. However, he was once again imprisoned from brawling, but managed to escape. Years later he was granted a pardon, but mysteriously died on his way back to Malta, most likely of a fever.
-Art students will gain an understanding of important and innovative painting techniques utilized by Caravaggio, including tenebrism, extreme naturalism, and chiaroscuro.
-European History students will be able to situate Caravaggio, as well as other Baroque artists, within the political scene of Italy. Students will gain an understanding of patronage and the alliance between art and propaganda, especially in concerns to the Counter-Reformation and religious commissions.
Using this Resource:
This gallery is of interest to Art and Art History educators, as it offers users the opportunity to study the artwork of Caravaggio, a key painter during the Baroque period, famous during his own lifetime and continuously studied to this day.
For sample related classroom activities, download the documents available under "Related Resources."
The objects in this lesson are just a beginning. We encourage you to explore the Museum's online collection through this web source--or even better, to visit the Museum and walk through the physical galleries--to look for other objects that will provide further insight into this exhibition.