Olga's Gallery

Caravaggio Biography

Caravaggio Portrait

Michelangelo Merisi, called Caravaggio, was a prolific and important painter of the early Baroque period in Italy. During his lifetime he was equally well-known for his art, as he was notorious for his violent temper, which frequently landed him in trouble and forced him to travel (flee, to be specific) constantly. Few artists in history have exercised as extraordinary an influence as this tempestuous and short-lived painter. Caravaggio was instrumental in establishing the tenets of the Baroque movement, moving European art away from the idealized viewpoint of the Renaissance to a more quotidien aesthetic of beauty.

Caravaggio was born in either Milan, or the town of Caravaggio near Milan, as the son of a ducal architect. His early training started in 1584 under Simone Peterzano, a little known pupil of Titian, and continued till 1588.

In 1592, Caravaggio went to Rome. His contact with Giuseppe Cesare d'Arpino (1568-1640), the most popular painter and art dealer in Rome at the turn of the century, brought him recognition. Through his work, Caravaggio eventually met his first patron Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte, who not only held out the possibility of working independently, but also secured for him his first public commission: side paintings in the Contarelli Chapel, San Luigi dei Francesi. For the Cardinal's Casino dell'Aurora he painted Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto (c.1599-1600). From then on, he was greatly in demand and was flooded with public commissions. However, his violent temper found him constantly in trouble with the law. From 1600, he is regularly mentioned in police records, accused of assault, libel and other crimes. In 1606, he was involved in a murder and had to flee the city, finding refuge on the estates of Prince Marzio Colonna, where he painted Madonna of the Rosary (c.1606-1607).

In his subsequent wanderings, he stopped in Naples, painting exclusively religious themes: Seven Works of Mercy (1606-1607), The Flagellation of Christ (1607). Not only these, but almost all of Caravaggio's religious subjects emphasize sadness, suffering, and death.

In Malta, he was housed by the Knights of St. John and painted several portraits of the Grand Master, Alof de Wignacourt. The artistically productive Maltese period saw him awarded the title of a Knight of St. John of Malta in 1608, but was interrupted suddenly by imprisonment for a passionate quarrel with a noble, and subsequent flight from the island.

Travelling next to Syracuse and Messina, he painted some major late works, such as The Raising of Lazarus (c.1608-1609). Caravaggio went on to Palermo and from there again to Naples. Here, he received news that he had been pardoned by direct order of the Pope, and he set out on the return journey to Rome. However, he was arrested at Porto Escole by authorities who hadn't gotten word of the pardon. Though he was soon released, the ship carrying all his worldly possessions had sailed on. Struck down by a fever, he died without setting foot in Rome again.


Michelangelo da Caravaggio. by S Vsevolzhskaya. Moscow. 1960. (in Russian)

Caravaggio. by R. Longhi. Dresden. 1968.

Painting of Western Europe. XVII century. by E. Rotenberg. Moscow. Iskusstvo. 1989. (in Russian)

Painting of Europe. XIII-XX centuries. Encyclopedic Dictionary. Moscow. Iskusstvo. 1999. (in Russian)

Caravaggio: Quadrifolio (Rizzoli Quadrifolio) by Stefano Zuffi, Michelangelo Merisi Da Caravaggio. Rizzoli, 2001.

M: The Man Who Became Caravaggio by Peter Robb. Henry Holt & Company, Inc., 2000.

Caravaggio (Masters of Art) by Alfred Moir. Harry N Abrams, 1989.

Caravaggio: A Play in Two Acts by Michael Whitney Straight. Devon Press, 1979.

Caravaggio by Catherine Puglisi, Michelangelo Merisi Da Caravaggio. Phaidon Press, 1998.

Caravaggio by John T. Spike, Michelangelo Merisi Da Caravaggio, Michele K. Spike. Abbeville Press, 2001.

Caravaggio (Icon Editions) by Howard Hibbard. Westview Press, 1985.

Caravaggio: A Novel by Christopher Peachment. Thomas Dunne Books, 2003.

Caravaggio and His Two Cardinals by Creighton E. Gilbert, Michelangelo Merisi Da Caravaggio. Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995.