Michelangelo Merisi, Caravaggio (Caravaggio - Milan 1571 or 73 - Porto Ercole 1610), place of birth is discussed, according to some documents he was born in Caravaggio (not far from Milan), according to other sources the parents were of Caravaggio, as he was born in Milan.
However in order to escape the plague parents left Milan for Caravaggio and here the father and grandparents died of plague.
The widow, returned to Milan with her four children, employed our little Caravaggio (1584), for very little money in the shop of Simon Pederzano, a painter then in vogue.
From apprentice applied himself diligently for about four years, although, according to his biographers, even then he did "some extravagance".
But over the years those extravagances became more and more uncontrollable.
In 1590 he was already in Rome.
Those early days were hard, including poverty, debauchery and diseases, to get on he went to the shop of Giuseppe Cesari, known as the "Cavalier D'Arpino", a Mannerist and successful painter, who hosted him at home.
It is assumed that during this period he painted in Santa Prassede the festoons of the Olgiati Chapel, frescoed by Cavalier d'Arpino.
Probably due to an illness, for which he was admitted to the Consolation hospital (near the Church of the same name), broke off his cooperation with the Cavalier d'Arpino.
The turning point in the life of Caravaggio was in 1595 when he was discovered by Cardinal Del Monte, a great lover of art, who, in addition to salary and home, introduced him to the people who count: prince and marquis Giustiniani, Barberini, Massimo, Colonna, and finally Cardinal Scipione Borghese, to whom we owe many of the collections that nowadays we see in the Galleria Borghese.
And the success came.
his "stravagantissimo" (=extravagant brain), as was told his patron Cardinal Del Monte, would have betrayed him several times.
Unable to keep away from prostitutes, drunkenness and taverns, spent in excess of excess and, unfortunately, it is all documented in the records of the papal police, ranging from litigation to injury, complaints, and finally got arrested. Released through the intervention of the French ambassador, shortly after another injury due to Lena (his model for the Madonna dei Pellegrini, who is portrayed with his three years old son, that for a baby is a bit 'older), run in Genoa, is saved from prison having made peace with the wounded.
soon ran into new complaints of insults and stone-throwing against cops, interspersed with various other violence, until, in 1606 clashes with Ranuccio, he was injured, but the other died.
This time his protectors could not save him to be sentenced to beheading and the theme of the cut off head, several times self portraits, for Caravaggio became an obsession.
Meanwhile it was necessary to escape from Rome, the powerful family Colonna promoted his escape by hiding in their feuds, during this flight Caravaggio found time to paint for Colonna various canvas, including the Supper at Emmaus.
To ensure safety to the fugitive outside the borders of the Papal States, Colonna entrusted him with their relatives the Neapolitan Carafa Columna.
Caravaggio remained at Naples a year of prolific painting (memorable the "Seven Acts of Mercy") and without "extravagance".
After a year, we are in 1607, Caravaggio, thanks always to the Colonna, leaved for Malta presented to the Grand Master of the Order of the Knights of St. John.
Why did he go to Malta?
The reason is simple: if he became a Knight would have granted immunity and therefore the sentence to beheading would be canceled.
In Malta, he painted the "Beheading of St. John the Baptist" which earned him the title of Knight of Grace.
he was betraied by a new "extravagance" clashes (injuries ? wounds?), with a noble knight, it turned out that he was sentenced to death and then imprisoned. Escaped, we do not know how, he fled to Sicily, chased by the hired assassins sent by his enemy.
While the outraged Knights of Malta expelled him "as a member putrid and foetid".
In Sicily hunted by the avengers the honor of the offense Knight he went from city to city, always painting, before Syracuse, then Messina (The Adoration of the Shepherds and The Resurrection of Lazarus), then Palermo (The Nativity), here he boarded back to Naples, where he was caught and severely wounded by the bullies of the relentless Maltese.
Immediately circulated the news of his death, but Caravaggio recovered and trigger a new pictorial season in which certainly painted the Saint Ursula and David with the Head of Goliath, one of his most dramatic works in which the cut off head of Goliath is not other than his self-portrait, to represent his obsession and his desire for death.
And death will come soon after.
His patron had not given up hope of getting him the grace and Pope Paul V was ready to sign it. Caravaggio did not want to linger, took a boat to get close to Rome, landed in Palo, the feud of the Orsini (about thirty miles from the coveted goal), but all his properties had remained on the ship and between them the picture of St. John the Baptist promised to Cardinal Scipione Borghese (nephew of the Pope). Caravaggio, then went back into the sea to reach the ship bound for Porto Ercole.
Worn and ill came to Porto Ercole where he died a few days before he got the Pope's pardon.
In his desperate life Caravaggio had no pupils, but his explosive personality produced the "Caravaggeschi", artists who painted under his influence.
As a reminder of the importance of Caravaggio in art history we give you a quick gallery of paintings by the greatest artists in whom is recognizable Caravaggio imprinting.
The first quote is from his close friend Orazio Gentileschi (San Francesco), and his daughter Artemisia (Judith and Holofernes), then Carlo Saraceni (San Bennone), the Spadarino (Guardian Angel), Gerrit van Honthorst (Jesus Christ and St. Peter), Terbrugghen, Giovanni Serodine (Charity of San Lorenzo), Josè de Ribera, alias the little Spaniard (the Trinity), Mattia Preti (The Tribute of Christ), Bartolomeo Manfredi (Peter's denial), Battistello Caracciolo (The Washing of the Feet), and at last to end in glory Lanfranco (San Guglielmo).
In France among his followers the best known are: Louis Le Nain (Farmers), Gorge de La Tour, Simone Vouet e Valentin de Boulogne.
In Spain: Diego Velasquez (The water-carrier of Seville), Don Francisco de Zurbaran (St. Serapion), Bartolomè Murillo (The healing of the paralytic).
In Northern Europe: Rembrandt (The woman in the bathroom), Van Dyck (St. Jerome), Vermeer (The soldier and the girl), Elsheimer (Judith and Holofernes), Van Baburen (Deposition), Stomer (Christ and Nicodemus).
In Rome, Caravaggio's works as well as in the gallery of Palazzo Barberini are shown in the Borghese Gallery, in the Pinacoteca Capitolina (la Buona Ventura and St. John the Baptist), in the Doria Pamphili Gallery, in the Galleria Corsini and in the Vatican Pinacoteca where is the "Deposition", which was originally in the Roman church of Santa Maria in Vallicella, also known as the New Church, where today you can see a good copy of the original made by the Tyrolean painter Michele Koeck.
Also in Rome you can enjoy the Caravaggio in the elective sites, elective because these masterpieces were designed to be seen where we see them today: the Madonna of the Pilgrims at the Church of St. Augustine's, in St. Louis of the French the Cottarelli Chapel (in which there is a hidden self-portrait), at Santa Maria del Popolo, the "Crucifixion of St. Peter" and the "Conversion of St. Paul", which replaced an earlier version considered scandalous, at St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception, in the sacristy, San Francesco and finally at Santa Maria in Vallicella the deposition, which we have mentioned.
In the Gallery of Palazzo Barberini see "Judith and Holofernes", raw, violent, this theatrical canvas of 1599 took away the peace and put in crisis, many artists, and inspired many others, such as Artemisia Gentileschi and Elsheimer.
The Narcissus of Palazzo Barberini was definitively attributed to Caravaggio after the restoration of 1995, before then, doubted that the author was Orazio Gentileschi, or the Spadarino.