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Caravaggio, Michelangelo Merisi da [Merisi, Michelangelo ]free

(b Milan, Sept 29, 1571; d Porto Ercole, July 18, 1610).
  • John M. Gash

Italian painter. After an early career as a painter of portraits, still-lifes, and genre scenes he became the most persuasive religious painter of his time. His bold, naturalistic style, which emphasized the common humanity of the apostles and martyrs, flattered the aspirations of the Counter-Reformation Church, while his vivid chiaroscuro enhanced both three-dimensionality and drama, as well as evoking the mystery of the faith. He followed a militantly realist agenda, rejecting both Mannerism and the classicizing naturalism of his main rival, Annibale Carracci. In the first 30 years of the 17th century his naturalistic ambitions and revolutionary artistic procedures attracted a large following from all over Europe.

I. Life and work.

1. Background and training in Lombardy, to 1592.

Michelangelo (or Michele) was the first child of Fermo Merisi (d 1577) and his second wife, Lucia Aratori (d 29 Nov 1590). He was born on 29 September, the feast day of his name saint, the Archangel Michael, and christened the following day in the parish church of S Stefano in Brolo, Milan. Fermo Merisi hailed from Caravaggio, after which Michelangelo was to be called, and was majordomo and architect to Francesco Sforza, Marchese di Caravaggio (d 1583), who had residences both in the Lombard capital, Milan, and his nearby ancestral seat of Caravaggio, near the border with Venetian territory. A preponderance of documents places the Merisi family in Milan until Fermo’s death, from plague, in Caravaggio on 20 October 1577, but they must have moved freely between the two places and may have retreated to Caravaggio in the late 1570s. Michelangelo was again living in Milan before 6 April 1584, when he was apprenticed there to the Bergamasque painter Simone Peterzano, a pupil of Titian, for a period of four years. A succession of legal documents, in which Michele and his brother Giovan Battista Merisi (b 21 Nov 1572) disposed of their shares of various inherited properties, next records him as a resident of Caravaggio (25 Sept 1589; 20 June 1590; 21 March and 1 April 1591). On 11 May 1592 a final division of the family estate was made between the three surviving children (Michelangelo, Giovan Battista, and Caterina (b 12 Nov 1574)). Caravaggio sold his remaining share, a small piece of agricultural land, the same day, and the last documented reference to him in northern Italy places him in Milan on 1 July. The lack of subsequent references to him in Lombardy suggests that he left his native land at once, never to return. He may simply have been seeking professional advancement; yet, according to Bellori (1672), he left because of ‘certain quarrels’; and an almost indecipherable passage in the manuscript of Caravaggio’s first and arguably most objective Italian biographer, Giulio Mancini, suggests that he may have spent time in prison in Milan for his part in the wounding of a constable. Although there are neither references to, nor examples of, specific works painted by Caravaggio during his youth in Spanish Lombardy, his north Italian background and training had far-reaching consequences for his art. Whether Caravaggio travelled immediately to Rome (Mancini said that he arrived there at about the age of 20) or went first to Venice, as Bellori claimed, remains an open question. Since no trace of activity in Venice has been unearthed, it is possible that he moved straight to Rome in the summer of 1592. However, a recently discovered document places Caravaggio present, though not necessarily working, in the workshop of the Sicilian painter, Lorenzo Carli (d Rome, 1597), in Rome in March 1596, and, since both Baglione and Bellori state that a Lorenzo Siciliano was Caravaggio’s first artist employer in the city, it at least raises the possibility that he may have arrived there later than previously thought, conceivably around 1595. Nevertheless, given the number, and range, of pictures that must be fitted into Caravaggio’s Roman sojourn in the 1590s, it is still probable that he was in Rome by 1592/3. It would, however, be surprising if Caravaggio had not previously visited Venice, given Peterzano’s admiration for Titian and Caravaggio’s display, in his own paintings, of a knowledge of works in the city by the likes of Titian, Tintoretto, Lotto, and Savoldo. Peterzano’s influence on the young Michelangelo should not be underestimated. He combined an interest in evocative light and colour, inspired by Titian, with more characteristically Lombard qualities and concerns: a precise handling of paint, which was more finished than that of the Venetians, even while retaining traces of their textured brushwork; a fondness for the sometimes ugly detail of nature; and, despite the fact that he was predominantly a painter of religious subjects, an interest in still-life detail and portraiture. Bellori asserted that while in Milan Caravaggio concentrated on portraits, and, given his later insistence on painting his subject pictures from posed models, a background in portrait painting would make sense.

The striking originality of Caravaggio’s art renders assessment of his other artistic influences difficult. However, it is clear that he was well versed in the various naturalistic traditions of 16th-century northern Italy: he knew the works of the Venetian painters Lorenzo Lotto, the Bassani, and, especially, Titian, all of whom had left important paintings in the churches either of Milan or of the cities of the western Veneto (e.g. Titian’s Resurrection, Brescia, SS Nazaro e Celso). Brescia and Bergamo also contained a large, and for Caravaggio perhaps even more influential, group of pictures by the 16th-century Brescian masters Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo, Gerolamo Romanino, Moretto, and Giovanni Battista Moroni. Their direct yet poetic naturalism drew jointly on Lombard and Venetian priorities, redirecting the Venetian fondness for expressive light and atmosphere into a concern with shadowy interiors and, on occasion, night scenes. In Milan, Caravaggio was to encounter a third tradition, that of Leonardo and his Milanese followers, whose naturalistic style placed particular emphasis on chiaroscuro as a device for enhancing the three-dimensionality of figures (e.g. Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks (London, N.G.), then in the Milanese church of S Francesco Grande). It seems, too, that Caravaggio may have been responsive to the art of the Campi brothers, especially to their ruggedly realistic night pieces, painted in Cremona and Milan in the mid- to late 16th century.

Caravaggio’s artistic personality was also forged by the Counter-Reformationary climate nurtured by Archbishop Carlo Borromeo in Milan and by the character of the Lombard people themselves. The renewed seriousness and fervour that Borromeo had instilled in the religious life of the city, as well as his advocacy of naturalism and simplicity in religious art, are echoed in Caravaggio’s subsequent religious paintings. Equally, the Lombard peoples enjoyed a reputation for vigorous, even wily independence and retained affinities with their origins in the Germanic world, not least in a tribalism that harboured egalitarian notions. Caravaggio’s forceful idiosyncrasy of character and populist inclinations, together with his northern passion for realism, were all, to some degree, rooted in this inheritance, which later fuelled his wholesale assault on the very different cultural traditions of late Mannerist Rome.

Caravaggio was to be aided in that enterprise by the long arm of his family’s feudal masters and by the many Lombards he encountered on his travels. The Sforza–Colonna connection, in particular, was to serve him in good stead throughout his career. On Francesco Sforza’s death, his widow, Costanza Colonna, became Caravaggio’s protector, and her good offices and dynastic links were to provide Caravaggio with useful contacts, protection, and even commissions, in later life. The Colonna were tied by marriage to both the Milanese Borromeo and the Genoese Doria families, both of whom were to commission paintings from Caravaggio.

2. Early years in Rome, c. 1592/3–c. 1596.

Caravaggio’s early Roman years are undocumented in contemporaneous records until March 1596, but 17th-century accounts and a group of extant paintings permit a tentative reconstruction of his movements from one residence, studio, or dealer to another in search of employment. It is, however, not always possible to link particular paintings precisely with the phases, episodes, and patrons mentioned in these accounts, and it is virtually impossible to arrange all of the phases in an exact order.

Of all Caravaggio’s purported early Roman residences, the first may have been with Monsignor Pandolfo Pucci of Recanati, a beneficed priest of St Peter’s, for Pucci was head of the household of Camilla Peretti, the sister of Pope Sixtus V, and the Peretti had close links with the Marchesi di Caravaggio. But Caravaggio, forced to do unpleasant household chores and fed on a diet of salad, left within a few months, dubbing his benefactor ‘Monsignor Insalata’ (Monsignor Salad). He is said by Mancini to have produced copies of devotional paintings for Pucci, who allegedly took them back to Recanati (untraced).

It was perhaps after leaving Pucci’s household that Caravaggio worked for Lorenzo Siciliano (now identified as Lorenzo Carli7), who specialized in manufacturing crudely painted ‘heads’ (i.e. head-and-shoulder or half-length figures) for the art market and for whom, ‘being very poor indeed, and virtually naked, he painted heads for a groat apiece and produced three a day’ (Bellori’s marginal notes to Baglione). It may have been here that Caravaggio met the Syracusan painter Mario Minniti. There possibly followed an interlude, mentioned only by Bellori, with the Sienese painter Antiveduto Gramatica. Gramatica was apparently a masterly manufacturer of portrait heads and small pictures of saints (untraced), and Bellori claimed that Caravaggio churned out half-lengths for him.

Caravaggio: Basket of Fruit, oil on canvas, 310×470mm, c. 1598–1601 (Milan, Biblioteca Ambrosiana); Photo credit: Scala/Art Resource, NY

The period spent in the house of the celebrated late Mannerist painter, the Cavaliere d’Arpino, and his brother Bernardino Cesari, which lasted eight months (Mancini), is, by contrast, mentioned by all the early biographers, although their accounts lack clarity and consistency. It is unlikely to have occurred before June 1593, when Bernardino arrived in Rome. Such an invitation implied a significant recognition of Caravaggio’s talent, but it did not necessarily occur after his activity for Lorenzo and Gramatica: it could well, in the light of recent evidence, have preceded it. However, Bellori is the only writer to state in what capacity Caravaggio was employed: to paint flowers and fruit. Since Arpino’s own surviving pictures contain neither, these must either be lost paintings in which Caravaggio supplied the still-life details or, more probably, independent still-lifes by Caravaggio that Arpino sold under his imprimature. The problem is compounded by the fact that still-life was a new genre whose emergence and development around this time are poorly understood and the fact that Caravaggio’s only securely attributed still-life, the Basket of Fruit (c1598–1601; Milan, Ambrosiana), done for Cardinal Federico Borromeo, is later in date. Attempts by Federico Zeri (1976) to identify such pictures have met with a mixed response. However, since two of Zeri’s attributions (both Rome, Gal. Borghese) probably formed part of the substantial collection of pictures confiscated from Arpino by the Borghese in 1607, the proposal deserves further attention, even if most would now attribute them to the so-called ‘Hartford Master’, after a still-life in the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT.

Caravaggio: Boy with a Basket of Fruit, oil on canvas, 700×670 mm, 1593–4 (Rome, Galleria Borghese); photo credit: Scala/Art Resource, NY

Two half-length figure paintings that contain masterly still-lifes of fruit (both Rome, Gal. Borghese), the so-called Sick Little Bacchus and the Boy with a Basket of Fruit or ‘Fruit Vendor’, along with another of a Boy Peeling Fruit, now known only through copies, were also part of the confiscation from Arpino and have not unreasonably been assumed to date from Caravaggio’s time with him. Their appearance could provide a clue to the kind of work Caravaggio also executed for Lorenzo Carli and Gramatica. The Sick Little Bacchus is almost certainly the Self-portrait as Bacchus referred to by Baglione, who asserted that Caravaggio used himself as a model in a number of pictures painted after he had left Arpino’s house and was trying to set up on his own.

All the biographers also mentioned a stay in the hospital at Santa Maria della Consolazione. For Baglione this preceded the period in the Arpino household, while Mancini said that it was occasioned by a horse kick while Caravaggio was living with Arpino and his brother and concluded his period of residence with them. Mancini also stated that Caravaggio, both during and for a long time after his convalescence, painted ‘many pictures’ for the hospital’s prior (who has not been securely identified), who took them to his homeland in either Sicily or Seville (depending on which version of Mancini’s MS. is consulted). If the latter, their possible impact on the young Velázquez is intriguing.

The biographers are united in claiming that, after leaving Arpino and the hospital, Caravaggio worked on his own behalf. It was during this phase, according to Mancini, that he was given a room in the house of another churchman, the Umbrian Monsignor Fantino Petrignani, a stay unlikely to predate 1595, as Petrignani was absent from Rome in 1594. But Mancini’s reference to the ‘many’ pictures done ‘at that time’, among which he singled out A Gypsy Telling a Young Man’s Fortune (probably The Fortune-teller in Rome, Mus. Capitolino), the Rest on the Flight into Egypt, and the Penitent Magdalene (both Rome, Gal. Doria-Pamphili), does not make it clear whether ‘that time’ refers to the period spent with Arpino and Petrignani as a whole or that with Petrignani alone. Neither did Mancini indicate whether any of them were painted for Petrignani himself. Petrignani’s inventory of 18 March 1600 does not refer to paintings by Caravaggio; however, it is possible that Petrignani, who was well connected, presented Caravaggio’s pictures to high-ranking ecclesiastics or laymen, or arranged for them to buy Caravaggio’s works. The Rest on the Flight into Egypt and the Penitent Magdalene seem to have been in the Aldobrandini collection from the early 17th century and may have been bought, commissioned, or received as gifts during the mid-1590s by Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini, although an alternative reading (Sickel, 2003) has them acquired at that time by Gerolamo Vittrici, who later commissioned the Entombment from Caravaggio. Caravaggio’s unassertive, even delicate style in these works owes much to the art of northern Italy. Aspects of the composition, lyrical colouring, and humble rural piety of the Rest on the Flight are close to Venetian tradition (Lotto; Jacopo Bassano; Savoldo). At the same time the modelling is relatively flat and there are marked infelicities of drawing and foreshortening. Neither had Caravaggio yet evolved a dramatic language of posture and gesture. The simple, passive poses are closely dependent on studio models; Caravaggio seems to have used the same slight, adolescent girl for both the Virgin in the Rest on the Flight and the figure in the Magdalene – a practice that he would continue to follow, though with more sophistication, in subsequent years (see §II below). These two pictures contain other signs of Caravaggio’s preference for constructing an imagined world out of the building blocks of mundane reality, as in the wicker-covered flask, pigeon-winged angel, fungus-dotted oak tree, luxuriating weeds, and scattered stones of the Rest on the Flight. In the same picture Caravaggio introduced a characteristically deft piece of illusionism, foreshortening one of the angel’s wings so that its edge abuts the picture plane, at right angles to it, a device that he would subsequently revert to and strengthen in the similarly foreshortened window-shutter in the Calling of St Matthew. Furthermore, while the Rest’s poetic landscape is essentially retrospective, Caravaggio effected in the Magdalene a radically prophetic decontextualization, at once modernizing (as seen in the tiled floor and the girl’s dress) and universalizing. The setting of a dim, bare chamber punctuated by light from an external source became the preferred existential space of his mature art – although the contrast between light and shadow was by then greatly enhanced.

3. Rome, c. 1596–c. 1599: The emergence of the mature manner.

In the mid-1590s, as Caravaggio was beginning to attract the attention of the Roman cognoscenti, an art dealer who was also a barber, Costantino Spata, incorrectly identified by Baglione as Maestro Valentino, sold some of his pictures – perhaps including The Fortune-teller and The Cardsharps (Fort Worth, TX, Kimbell A. Mus.) – to Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte, who was to become one of the artist’s most important patrons. In these anecdotal genre scenes of contemporary subjects with half-length figures, Caravaggio first developed his skill at dramatic narrative. These picturesque parables of deceit were of ultimately Netherlandish inspiration (e.g. Bosch, Bruegel, and Lucas van Leyden); but whereas the early Netherlandish masters had often treated such scenes in a grotesque or comic manner as part of more extensive images that included other examples of depravity and folly, Caravaggio isolated the single episode in order to subject it to re-enactment with posed models dressed for the part. Aspects of the pictures anticipate his evolved Roman style: the archlike groupings of figures and diagonal axes of The Cardsharps feature prominently in later works; while the triangular wedge of the backgammon board, foreshortened illusionistically over the edge of the table, prefigures, in embryo, the same shape vastly magnified of the tombstone supporting the several actors of the Chiesa Nuova Entombment (1602–4; see §I, 4 below).

Caravaggio: Concert of Youths (or The Musicians), oil on canvas, 36 1/4 x 46 5/8 in. (92.1 x 118.4 cm), c. 1595 (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1952, Accession ID: 52.81); photo © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Cardinal del Monte was Grand Duke Ferdinando I de’ Medici’s ambassador at the papal court and lived in one of the Medici residences, the Palazzo Madama. He was a late Renaissance polymath with a keen interest in music, the theatre, alchemy, and painting. His brother, Guidubaldo, was the foremost mathematician of the age, and Galileo was one of their friends. About 1596–7 Caravaggio joined the del Monte household as a paid retainer and was still there on 19 November 1600, although he left soon after. The Cardinal is known to have owned ten paintings by him. This arrangement influenced Caravaggio’s art directly and indirectly. Del Monte’s passion for music and alchemy found issue in at least three commissions, the Concert of Youths (c. 1595–7; New York, Met.), The Lute-player (New York, Wildenstein’s, on loan to New York, Met.), and Jupiter, Neptune, and Pluto, painted in oils on the ceiling of del Monte’s alchemical laboratory (now the Casino Ludovisi); while the atmosphere of empirical science must have been congenial to the young naturalistic painter. Caravaggio may have continued to work for del Monte after 1600, for the beautiful and freely painted Lute-player has some claim to be considered a later product, although the current orthodoxy puts it firmly in the 1590s. The picture is a later autograph variant (see 1990 exh. cat.; Christiansen, 1990; Mahon, 1990) of The Lute-player (c1595–7; St Petersburg, Hermitage) that was almost certainly commissioned by the Marchese Vincenzo Giustiniani, a close friend of del Monte and a distinguished intellectual.

Giustiniani’s inventory of 1637 lists 13 paintings by Caravaggio, making him quantitatively his most important patron. The Hermitage Lute-player epitomizes the complex cross-currents of Caravaggio’s early Roman style. Like the majority of his secular pictures from the 1590s, it is a half-length, almost certainly painted direct from life (it may even represent a specific musician), and also features a prominent still-life. It is essentially a demonstration piece, designed to show off Caravaggio’s skill at representing both the human figure and naturalistic still-life. It may have been in connection with this painting that Caravaggio remarked, as reported by Giustiniani, that it was as difficult to paint a good picture of flowers as one of figures. It brings to a high-point of resolution the formula pioneered in such early works as the Sick Little Bacchus, the Boy Peeling Fruit, and a Boy Bitten by a Lizard (Florence, Fond. Longhi; also known, uniquely for Caravaggio, in an autograph later replica in London, N.G.). In all of them a half-length figure of a scantily clad youth is seated behind a table on which Caravaggio has arranged a naturalistic still-life made up of one or more of the following elements: fruit, vegetables, and flowers placed in a glass vase that also contains a reflection.

Caravaggio even included flowers in two of the only three portraits from the 1590s to have survived. The figure in Giustiniani’s Courtesan Phyllis (c1597–8; ex-Kaiser-Friedrich Mus., Berlin, destr. 1945; see Cinotti, 1991, pl. 19), now identified as an actual courtesan, Fillide Melandroni, held a posy of jasmine; and the portrait of Maffeo Barberini, the future Pope Urban VIII (Florence, Gal. Corsini), includes a cut crystal vase of flowers on a table.

In the genre paintings themselves Caravaggio was not bound by any single iconographic convention or intent, and all modern attempts to seek a unifying key to their meaning have signally failed. Rather, having alighted on a formula that was ideal for asserting his naturalism in a Rome still half-attached to the non-naturalistic aesthetic values of Mannerism, Caravaggio proceeded to tailor it to the requirements or opportunities of an expanding art market or of individual patrons. In these imaginative genre concoctions, he drew on a north Italian tradition of depicting figures with fruit or flowers – either as personifications of the seasons (Dosso Dossi’s Boy with a Basket of Flowers, Florence, Fond. Longhi), as mythological figures (e.g. Titian’s Flora, Florence, Uffizi), or as allegorical portraits. He also responded to 16th-century Lombard and Venetian paintings of musicians, shown either singly or in groups, such as Bartolomeo Veneto’s Lute-player (Milan, Brera) and (?)Giorgione’s Concert (Florence, Pitti).

The intensity of presence and idiosyncrasy of mood of the genre paintings is the result of painting directly from posed models and objects placed in the studio. Caravaggio reconstructed the reality of a corner of a room, with all its accidents of light and shadow. Nothing that will enhance the illusion of reality is ignored, from keenly observed details to the strategic foregrounding of objects. His insistence on recording and even exaggerating distinctive details runs contrary to the generalizing conventions of Renaissance art, though it had precedents in that of northern Italy and northern Europe: maggot holes in an apple; drops of water on a leaf or decanter; the curl of a sheet of music; an excessive length of gut string crinkling out of the pegbox of a lute or violin. This passion for verisimilitude extends also to the human models, who seem to be rendered with remarkably little idealization and even with such features as dirty fingernails emphasized polemically (e.g. in Bacchus, c1597–8; Florence, Uffizi).

Caravaggio’s evocative and spatially suggestive observation of the play of light includes both cast shadows and the reflections of windows, buildings, and even people in water- or wine-filled glass vases or decanters. This preoccupation with the effects of light (which is prefigured by such artists as Savoldo) has the additional naturalistic function of positing a world of (reflected) objects and light sources beyond the picture space. Caravaggio also introduced in such works as the Boy Bitten by a Lizard and the St Petersburg Lute-player another device that was to become central to his mature religious art: a diagonal shaft of light slanting across the back wall. It is first and foremost a function of his studio-based naturalism, the source of light by implication a high window in the room in which he placed his models. But the shaft of light also assumes other functions, both pictorial and expressive. For it not only animates the monotony of the back wall but also serves to emphasize a dramatic moment or indicate the presence of the Divine. This ‘cellar lighting’, as it came to be known, was developed by Caravaggio into one of the hallmarks of his mature style, its naturalistic, spiritual, and dramatic dimensions increasingly integrated.

In his incipiently Baroque effort to abolish the distinction between the world of the picture and that of the spectator, Caravaggio dramatically located objects right up against the picture plane, displaying or even proffering them to the viewer (sheet music; a violin or flute; a basket of fruit; Bacchus’s glass of wine). Neither did he stop there. He sought to cap this sense of presence in several instances through the added dimension of sound – adumbrating in the cry of the Boy Bitten or the parted lips of his singing lute-players the recurrent motif of an open mouth in his mature art.

Caravaggio linked figures and still-life together with ingenuity and flair. That the formula is geared to an evocation of sensual beauty is clear from the poetic interaction that he articulated between the figures and their inanimate equivalents, for example the chord created between the soaringly elegant flower arrangement in the Giustiniani Lute-player and the ornately coiffured lutenist whose curly hairdo it pointedly echoes. The fact that all of the youths are clad either in loose shirts with plunging necklines or pseudo-antique off-the-shoulder garments may well imply a deliberate eroticism. It would be surprising if some of Caravaggio’s patrons were not attracted by this aspect of his pictures. Del Monte was cited by one contemporary source as having acquired a taste for the company of boys in his old age after a youth misspent with women; while Giustiniani, though a married man and the owner of the Courtesan Phyllis, commissioned from Caravaggio not only the androgynous Lute-player singing Jacob Arcadelt’s madrigal, ‘You know that I love you’, but also (c1603) the scurrilously suggestive Victorious Cupid (see §I, 4 below).

Perhaps, too, the effeminate appearance of some (not all) of these boys reflects the particular contexture of certain subcultures. Did the bardassi (catamites) who flourished in Counter-Reformation Rome, as they had in antiquity, dress up like the Boy Bitten or The Lute-player? Did musicians dress like this in order to accentuate the elegance and refinement of their performances? And how did the culturally sanctioned deviation of castrato singers fit into the equation – especially if, as seems possible from the heavy, rounded features, the del Monte Lute-player is a portrait of one, the Spaniard Pedro Montoya, who sang in the Sistine Chapel Choir and stayed in the Palazzo Madama?

If the stage for the emergence of Caravaggio’s mature manner was fully set by the last quarter of the 1590s, the precise mechanics of the transition to it remain obscure. The two or three years leading up to the decisive breakthrough of the Contarelli Chapel paintings (1599–1600) are conventionally associated with a preparatory strengthening of the contrasts of light and shade, a concomitant increase in the three-dimensionality of figures and a heightened fluency of dramatic articulation. The works widely associated with this phase are, however, not especially homogeneous in technique or style. They include del Monte’s Ecstasy of St Francis (c1597–8; Hartford, CT, Wadsworth Atheneum) and St Catherine of Alexandria (c1597–8; Madrid, Mus. Thyssen-Bornemisza); a Medusa (c1597–9; Florence, Uffizi), which may, as was probably the case with the Uffizi Bacchus, have been commissioned by the Cardinal as a gift for Ferdinando I de’ Medici; a Conversion of the Magdalene (Detroit, MI, Inst. A.), which seems to have been owned in the 17th century by the Aldobrandini; and a Judith Beheading Holofernes (Rome, Pal. Barberini), which belonged to Ottavio Costa, a rich banker.

The three paintings done for del Monte are the strongest candidates for this moment, possibly beginning with the St Francis. It is a small, unusually freely brushed cabinet picture, whose silvery light and lyrical sentiment recall Savoldo, while the boy angel who, innovatively, supports the swooning saint is in the sensual vein of the half-lengths. The picture’s marked chiaroscuro derives from the fact that St Francis’s stigmatization occurred at night, and it seems probable that this accident of subject-matter played its part in alerting Caravaggio to the potential of chiaroscuro as a metaphor for spiritual experience – reawakening in the process memories of many dark Lombard paintings. Such an approach had the undoubted advantage for a self-consciously naturalistic painter that the presence of the divine could be rendered by light alone, without resort to apparitions in the sky.

Caravaggio’s other route to a fully fledged chiaroscuro lay in his observation of the form-enhancing properties of light entering dim rooms from high windows. In this respect the St Catherine really does seem to represent something of a turning-point, for in it, as Bellori noted, Caravaggio began to strengthen his shadows significantly. The Medusa also uses chiaroscuro and an even more restricted palette as a means of enhancing three-dimensionality and horror. The Gorgon’s wide-mouthed scream lifts Caravaggio’s early fascination with sound onto the more melodramatic plane that would characterize his efforts in the early years of the 17th century.

The Conversion of the Magdalene and Judith Beheading Holofernes also slot conceptually into this pattern of evolution. In the Conversion, Caravaggio not only employed the same model as in the St Catherine but developed further the formula of figures seated dramatically around a table – halfway, it could be argued, between The Cardsharps and the more complex arrangements of the Calling of St Matthew and the two paintings of the Supper at Emmaus. Equally it could be said of the Judith, which like the St Francis is iconographically a night scene, that the Jacobean intensity of its treatment of a violent subject, replete with spurting blood, precisely echoes the Medusa, as well as having close affinities with the Martyrdom of St Matthew. Furthermore, its very bold contrasts of light and shade, which may have been achieved by Caravaggio painting by lamplight in order to emulate the effect of torches in Holofernes’ tent, would help to explain the otherwise unprecedented force of the chiaroscuro in the Martyrdom. However, there is no overriding reason for placing either the Conversion or the Judith before 1600.

4. Rome, 1599–1606: Years of success and fame.

Caravaggio: Calling of St Matthew, oil on canvas, 3.22×3.40 m, 1599–1600 (Rome, S Luigi dei Francesi, Contarelli Chapel); Photo credit: Scala/Art Resource, NY

Between 23 July 1599 and 4 July 1600 Caravaggio painted two large canvases, the Calling of St Matthew and the Martyrdom of St Matthew for the side walls of the Contarelli Chapel in S Luigi dei Francesi, Rome – his first public commission. The commission was awarded by the Fabbrica of St Peter’s, probably on the advice of Cardinal del Monte, in final fulfilment of the will of the French cardinal Matthieu Cointrel (Italianized as Matteo Contarelli), to celebrate his memory through the deeds of his name saint, and only after Arpino had failed to honour a prior contract to fresco them. Together with two smaller lateral canvases of the Crucifixion of St Peter and the Conversion of St Paul, begun in 1601 for the chapel of Tiberio Cerasi in the Augustinian church of S Maria del Popolo, Rome, these two large wall paintings won Caravaggio immense fame as a painter of religious subjects and led to an uninterrupted flow of commissions, both for churches and private collections. He was elected to the Accademia di S Luca c1600–01.

Caravaggio: Martyrdom of St Matthew, oil on canvas, 3.23×3.43 m, 1599–1600 (Rome, S Luigi dei Francesi, Contarelli Chapel); photo credit: Scala/Art Resource, NY

In the two St Matthew histories Caravaggio created a new and emotive combination that remained fundamental to his art: realistic figure types allied to bold chiaroscuro (see also Tenebrism). The pictures appear to relate to two alternative kinds of studio lighting used by Caravaggio during the ensuing years: sunlight from a high side window, as seen in the Calling, and illumination in a dark room from a lamp placed high above the models, which may have been employed in the Martyrdom. Bellori claimed that the latter was Caravaggio’s habitual practice, and it would have had the advantage over natural lighting of providing a constant source of illumination. It is likely, however, that he resorted to both procedures, sometimes within a single painting.

The fact that Caravaggio always lit his models from above indicates that he was well aware that such lighting enhances three-dimensionality. Indeed, unlike several of his imitators, particularly such northern painters as Honthorst, he rarely used an internal light source, as this type of radiance flattens the appearance of forms. Caravaggio’s lighting was part of the same militantly realist agenda that informed his close adherence to the appearance of his models, an uncompromising aesthetic neatly encapsulated in his statement at the Baglione libel trial that ‘a good painter is one who knows how to paint well and imitate natural things well’.

This agenda alone, however, would not have been sufficient to create such remarkable images, were it not for Caravaggio’s intuitive grasp of dramatic form. In the Calling the main source of illumination is high up on the right, in the Martyrdom on the left. This corresponds to the direction of the action in both pictures, with the light in them intended to mimic the daylight entering the chapel from a window above the altar – as is made specific in the Calling by a widening beam of light that slants across the back wall. The light in both cases can be read either as a symbol, or even the agent, of the divine will. A slanting beam of light, at once natural and divine, develops into one of Caravaggio’s favourite metaphors. In the Calling, the light on the wall sweeps past the figures of Christ and his companion, who have just entered the counting-house, as if it were a superior force directing their endeavours, paralleling Christ’s gathering gesture as he summons the tax-gatherer Levi (Matthew) to the discipleship. In the Martyrdom the pools of light that pick out the saint and his assassin alike, as well as parts of the sinuous angel who leans down from a cloud to hand Matthew his palm of martyrdom, forcefully convey the idea of heavenly sanction for this second and final harvesting of the saint back to God.

At the same time Caravaggio is skilful in his location of scatterings of light to signpost individual indicators of dramatic response and shape the overall pattern of the action. Indeed, he used light as much to convey human alarm at the workings of providence as the nature of the Godhead itself. It is only one of many examples of dramatic irony in his art. Another is the way in which Caravaggio cast Matthew’s slayer in the Martyrdom as one of the nude figures he had been baptizing – suddenly risen from the font to transform a tranquil scene into one of sound and fury. This dramatic flair, which would often override the finer points of iconography without subverting the central significance of the subject, extended to the inclusion of his self-portrait in religious pictures. In the Martyrdom this takes the form of a conceit: Caravaggio, as one of the fleeing crowd, looks back over his shoulder to witness the holy mystery and his own mastery in recreating it.

The Contarelli narratives are great pieces of theatre, paralleling the pyrotechnics of the Elizabethan–Jacobean stage and heralding the theatricality of High Baroque art. Their consummate illusion is to make it appear as if sacred events are taking place in the space of the chapel. It is an impression that is heightened, here as elsewhere, by Caravaggio’s eloquent deployment of both modern and biblical costume.

The X-ray of the Martyrdom confirms Bellori’s claim that Caravaggio reworked the design three times. Some of the underlying figures (indebted to Raphael’s fresco of the Battle of Ostia in the Vatican Stanze) and those of the saint, executioner, and acolyte on the final surface (dependent on Titian’s subsequently destroyed Martyrdom of St Peter Martyr) also confirm that Caravaggio was not as neglectful of artistic precedent as his stance as doctrinaire realist might lead one to suppose.

Caravaggio: Conversion of St Paul, oil on canvas, 2.30×1.75 m, 1601 (Rome, S Maria del Popolo, Cerasi Chapel); Photo credit: Scala/Art Resource, NY

The Crucifixion of St Peter (1601–?4) and the Conversion of St Paul(1601–?4) in the Cerasi Chapel of S Maria del Popolo show an even greater economy of dramatic means and a more insistent foregrounding of the figures. The particular pattern of the chiaroscuro and quality of light in both works suggest that Caravaggio used a hanging lamp for illumination, as the main figures are bathed in a centralized pool of light, which has the effect of projecting them forward onto the viewer’s attention. It goes hand-in-hand with a mastery of dramatic moment, as Caravaggio compactly directed all his resources towards involving the viewer in the drama: St Peter turns on his cross to address the crowd/onlooker, and Saul’s arms are thrown back in rapture towards the picture plane, embracing the light of conversion virtually from the spectator’s point of view. Caravaggio may have intensified his illusionism in the Cerasi Chapel out of rivalry with Annibale Carracci, who had been commissioned to do the altarpiece, the Assumption of the Virgin. Each artist asserted the distinctiveness of his approach, with Annibale pushing his fondness for Raphaelesque idealization, even lighting and colouristic delicacy to a new pitch, and Caravaggio countering with his vigorous anti-classicism. The backside and muddy feet of one of Peter’s executioners are thrust ostentatiously against the picture plane, while the rump of Saul’s horse (a tired Roman dray horse on a hot day) is unceremoniously directed at Annibale’s altarpiece.

Such boldness on Caravaggio’s part is remarkable given the fact that these two pictures were allegedly replacements for two others by him, in a different style, which, according to Baglione, were found unsatisfactory by the patron and one of which, a Conversion of St Paul, has been identified as the picture now in the Odescalchi collection, Rome (see Cinotti, 1991, pl. 33). What precisely it was about this attractively coloured, if somewhat Mannerist, composition that failed to please remains conjectural.

In the early 1600s, flushed with success, Caravaggio pursued his at times provocative agenda in a succession of altarpieces for side chapels in churches and easel paintings for private collectors. However, his ostentatious rhetoric of the real was not always to the liking of church authorities, who considered that many of the sacred figures lacked decorum. Three out of five of the altarpieces that he delivered between 1602 and 1606 were either rejected outright or soon taken down: St Matthew and the Angel, commissioned on 7 February 1602 to complete his work on the Contarelli Chapel (ex-Kaiser-Friedrich Mus., Berlin, destr. 1945; see Cinotti, 1991, pl. 40) and for which Caravaggio made a replacement (1602–3; in situ); the Death of the Virgin (1601–6; Paris, Louvre) for Laerzio Cherubini’s chapel in S Maria della Scala; and the Madonna of the Serpent (c 1605–8 April 1606; Rome, Gal. Borghese), painted for the altar of the Papal Grooms (Palafrenieri) in St Peter’s. This last was immediately snapped up by Cardinal Scipione Borghese, who was to become the last great collector of Caravaggio’s works. Only the Entombment (1602–4; Rome, Pin. Vaticana) for the Vittrice Chapel in the Chiesa Nuova and the Madonna of Loreto (or Madonna of the Pilgrims, 1604–5; Rome, S Agostino) prospered, both destined to become highly popular devotional works, not least with the poor.

Caravaggio was given a freer rein to pursue his experiments by a number of sympathetic and wealthy private collectors, notably Vincenzo Giustiniani, who bought the rejected first version of St Matthew and the Angel, and the Roman nobleman Ciriaco Mattei. In the first half of 1601 Caravaggio moved into the palace owned jointly by Ciriaco and his brothers Asdrubale and Cardinal Bernardino, probably staying there until his imprisonment for several months in the summer of 1603, when he was involved in a libel trial for writing scurrilous verses about Giovanni Baglione. He seems to have spent the rest of his Roman sojourn in rented accommodation, punctuated by very brief trips to the Marches around the turn of 1603–4, allegedly to paint an unidentified altarpiece for the Capuchin church of S Maria di Costantinapoli in Tolentino, and to Genoa for two weeks in early August 1605, to escape arrest for wounding a notary. While in Genoa he was probably given shelter by Giovanna Colonna, wife of Giovanni Andrea Doria II, and turned down a commission from Marcantonio Doria to fresco the loggia of his villa at Sampierdarena, near Genoa.

Caravaggio: Supper at Emmaus, oil on canvas, 1.41×1.962 m, 1601 (London, National Gallery); Photo credit: Nimatallah/Art Resource, NY

For Ciriaco Mattei, his main patron within that family, Caravaggio painted the Supper at Emmaus (1601; London, N.G.), St John the Baptist (?1602; Rome, Pin. Capitolina), and the Taking of Christ (1602; Dublin, N.G.). Among the works that he executed for Giustiniani were the Incredulity of St Thomas (1602–3; Potsdam, Schloss Sanssouci) and the Victorious Cupid (c1603; Berlin, Gemäldegal).

Both the Supper and the Incredulity of St Thomas are replete with virtuoso naturalistic flourishes and, in their desire for immediacy of dramatic impact, pay scant regard to the niceties of decorum. In the Supper, an obsession with displaying his skill at foreshortening and still-life painting tempted Caravaggio into what may appear as a number of transgressions, whether of convention or logic – from the inclusion of a basket of fruit seasonal to the autumn of 1601 when the picture was painted, but not to Easter when the episode is meant to have occurred, to the fact that it is perched implausibly over the front edge of the table. However, it is at least arguable that in the beardless physiognomy of Christ and the prominence given to the basket of fruit, Caravaggio is alluding to a Pauline conception of the spiritual form of the resurrected body and to Christ as ‘the first fruits of the harvest of the dead’ (I Corinthians 15:20), probably under the guidance of Cardinal Bernardino Mattei. In the Incredulity of St Thomas, by contrast, his wish to convey the sensation of touch induced a very literal and equally melodramatic interpretation: the farouche Christ guides Thomas’s finger right inside his wound and both he and the onlookers wince at the impact. Their wrinkled brows are a favourite device of Caravaggio’s for conveying psychological tension. Furthermore, as if to lay all doubts about Christ’s physical presence to rest, Caravaggio dwelt intently on his body, gratuitously hitching up his robe to reveal his thigh.

The indulgence, perhaps even encouragement, of Ciriaco and Giustiniani enabled Caravaggio to carry this polemical programme one stage further, for the St John the Baptist (with a ram, rather than the customary Lamb of God) and the Victorious Cupid are burlesques on the high-flown Platonic poetry of Michelangelo’s idealized ignudi. The St John, however, is also the first in a succession of increasingly serious single-figure paintings of this saint, which became the vehicle for the study of the young male nude (e.g. 1602/3, Kansas City, MO, Nelson–Atkins Mus. A. and c1605/8, Rome, Pal. Corsini). These paintings are paralleled by a series of studies of St Jerome that enabled Caravaggio to explore the appearance of age (1605–6, Rome, Gal. Borghese; ?1605–8, Monserrat, Mus. Adadia; 1608, Valletta, Oratory of St John’s Co-Cathedral).

Caravaggio: Entombment, oil on canvas, 3.00×2.03 m, 1603–4 (Rome, Pinacoteca Vaticana); photo credit: Scala/Art Resource, NY

The insistent realism of Caravaggio’s private religious commissions of c1601–3 was not, however, exclusively stylistic, for he was always conscious of the need to focus the significance of the image through some striking piece of theatre. In the Supper at Emmaus, for example, the right-hand apostle’s double arm span of surprise, which could be viewed simply as a gratuitous piece of illusionism, equally serves as the man’s bewildered assertion that he had last seen the Christ with whom he is now confronted dead on the cross. Similarly, in the public commission of the Entombment, the outstretched arms of the Virgin double as a protective gesture and an allusion to the crucifixion, while the raised arms of Mary Cleophas incorporate a climax to the mourners’ grief and hint at Christ’s future resurrection. The quality of ritualistic mime that Caravaggio thereby brings to his gripping tableaux vivants has much in common with the modern theatre. However, Caravaggio’s overriding sense of dramatic moment was bound, on occasion, to put him at odds with Counter-Reformation orthodoxy, especially when he presented those moments in terms of very ordinary human types and situations, as his rejected works and their ‘corrected’ replacements make clear.

In the case of the St Matthew and the Angel, there seems no reason to doubt Bellori’s explanation that ‘the priests took it down, saying that the figure [of St Matthew] with its legs crossed and its feet rudely exposed to the public had neither decorum nor the appearance of a saint’, for in the second version Matthew’s bare legs are covered and the soles of his feet (one of which had been thrust forward over the centre of the altar) turned into profile on the picture plane. In addition, the female-looking angel who nestles up against the gormless saint and guides his hand in its writing has been made masculine and banished to a respectable distance up in the sky.

Similar factors seem to have pertained in the case of the Death of the Virgin, not least as regards the ‘indecorous’ portrayal of the Virgin. According to different accounts, Caravaggio had used either a live or drowned prostitute as his model – and there is certainly a corpse-like cast to his plain and bloated Virgin, with her lower legs exposed to reveal swollen ankles and twisted toes. In his replacement (1610–12; Rome, S Maria della Scala) Carlo Saraceni prettified her countenance and covered her legs. He also took account of what must have been another fundamental objection to Caravaggio’s work: that it too much resembles an ordinary deathbed situation, for he not only depicts the Virgin seated and dying rather than prostrate and stone-dead, but indicates her imminent heavenly ascent by populating the upper part of the canvas with a choir of angels.

The Madonna of the Serpent, a work that symbolizes the extirpation of heresy, was also thought to be flawed in its characterization of sacred figures. Bellori, again, was surely right when he pinpointed the vulgar depiction of the Virgin and the nude Christ Child. The full frontal nudity of this urchin-like and somewhat over-aged Jesus and the (slight) décolletage of his mother were the culprits, as well perhaps as the extremely wizened appearance of St Anne, patron saint of the Palafrenieri. However, it is not always clear who it was within the individual church establishments, or perhaps even from higher ecclesiastical authority, who insisted on the unacceptability of these works. Reformed religious orders, which upheld the fundamentalist ideals of poverty and humility, may well have been attracted to Caravaggio’s art, and the Augustinians, the Oratorians (in the Chiesa Nuova), and, increasingly, the Franciscans and the Capuchins seem to have had few problems with his down-to-earth vision.

The pressures of success (and criticism) may have played their part in further destabilizing Caravaggio’s volatile character, and in the period from 1600 to 1606 he was frequently arraigned before the courts for a variety of offences. The picaresque saga culminated in his fateful killing of Ranuccio Tommasoni in Rome, on 29 May 1606, during a brawl (or a duel) occasioned by a disputed bet on a game of tennis – an event that forced him to flee the city under threat of capital punishment.

5. Flight to Latium, 1606.

Caravaggio fled for protection to the estates owned by his Milanese feudal lords, the Colonna, south-east of Rome (at Paliano, Zagarolo, and Palestrina), apparently painting while there a second version of the Supper at Emmaus (1606; Milan, Brera) and a Magdalene (usually identified with a lost Magdalene in Ecstasy known through copies; see Cinotti, 1991, pl. 56). Comparison of the Brera Supper with the earlier version (London, N.G.) pinpoints Caravaggio’s shift away from his mesmeric but ostentatious earlier rhetoric towards a much more assured integration of naturalism with content and expression. In the later picture gesture is more restrained, and sensuous surface detail gives way to a much darker pictorial field, on which only essential objects or actions are highlighted. The brushwork is more fluid and expresses mood and atmosphere while enhancing pictorial unity. Although this characteristic had begun to manifest itself in the later Roman years (e.g. in the Madonna of Loreto) and was in part simply the result of growing technical assurance, it became far more marked in his pictures from 1606 onwards, prompted by the increasing urgency of his life as a fugitive.

6. Last years in Naples, Malta and Sicily, 1606–10.

Caravaggio’s last four years were restless ones after the lengthy Roman sojourn. He travelled from the Colonna estates to Naples, where he stayed from before 6 October 1606 to early July 1607. A commission from the Conde de Benavente, Viceroy of Naples, for a Crucifixion of St Andrew (1607; Cleveland, OH, Mus. A.) demonstrates that he continued to receive patronage at the highest level. His last years were ones of considerable artistic experiment, and if pictures such as the Madonna of the Rosary (Vienna, Ksthist. Mus.) and the Flagellation (Rouen, Mus. B.-A.) were done in Naples in 1606–7, as seems probable, rather than in Rome, then his first Neapolitan period was productive and varied. The Madonna of the Rosary is both more lightly coloured and somewhat more idealized than the generally gloomy pictures done in Naples in the wake of the Brera Supper. Apart from the Crucifixion of St Andrew for the Viceroy, these include a small horizontal painting, David with the Head of Goliath (Vienna, Ksthist. Mus.), and two large altarpieces, the Seven Works of Mercy, completed by 7 January 1607, for the charitable confraternity, the Pio Monte della Misericordia (in situ), and the Flagellation (cMay–June 1607; Naples, Capodimonte) for the de Franchis Chapel in S Domenico Maggiore.

In these pictures Caravaggio maintained and even extended his passion for foregrounding his figures with bold foreshortenings against dark backgrounds, so preventing the eye from wandering too far into depth. Dramatic impact remains a top priority – so much so that the crowded Seven Works of Mercy is, in its complex, dynamic illusionism, perhaps the first fully Baroque altarpiece. These paintings are also distinguished by a new, unblinking sobriety of mood. In them Caravaggio’s insights into human nature come closer than ever to the ardent ideals of the Counter-Reformation. It is a mood that is further enhanced by the emotive brushwork (the flesh of Christ’s leg in the Flagellation has a transfigured quality that anticipates Rembrandt). The Flagellation also introduces, in the substantial gap over the heads of the figures, a compositional device that is developed in Caravaggio’s subsequent Maltese and Sicilian canvases.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio: Beheading of St. John the Baptist, oil on canvas, 3.61 × 5.20m, 1608 (Oratory of St John’s Co-Cathedral, Valletta ); © Copyright St. John’s Co-Cathedral Foundation

Caravaggio travelled next to Malta, in order to become a Knight of St John, and stayed there from 12 July 1607 to early October 1608. He was elected a Knight of Obedience of the Order of St John on 14 July 1608, and the huge, horizontal Beheading of St John the Baptist, which he executed for the oratory of the conventual church, now co-cathedral, in Valletta in 1608 was probably his obligatory gift of passage into the Order. Among his other Maltese works are a St Jerome (1607–8; Valletta, St John), a portrait of the Grand Master of the Knights Hospitallers, Alof de Wignacourt, with a pageboy (1607–8; Paris, Louvre), a Knight of Malta (Fra Antonio Martelli) (1607–8; Florence, Pitti), and the Annunciation (Nancy, Mus. B.-A.), probably commissioned by the Mantuan Gonzaga family for their in-law, Duke Henry II of Lorraine. However, after a brawl involving seven Knights in the house of Fra Prospero Coppini on 18 August 1608, in which one of their number, Fra Giovanni Rodomonte Roero, Conte della Vezza di Asti, was seriously wounded, Caravaggio was imprisoned. He escaped and fled to Sicily. Although he was under a capital sentence of banishment from Rome, he was never actively pursued by the papal authorities, and it is only at this point that a genuine threat arose to exacerbate his inner demons. For it is likely that certain Knights pursued him in search of revenge. Bellori wrote of fear hunting him from place to place, and he made a fairly rapid progress around the Sicilian coast: to Syracuse (Oct–?Dec 1608), where Mario Minitti was responsible for gaining him the commission to paint the Burial of St Lucy (Syracuse, S Lucia al Sepolcro); Messina (?Jan–Aug 1609), where he left the Adoration of the Shepherds and the Raising of Lazarus (both Messina, Mus. Reg.); and finally perhaps to Palermo (?Aug–Sept 1609), where he was thought to have painted the Nativity with SS Francis and Lawrence (ex-Oratory of S Lorenzo, Palermo; stolen 1969). However, recent documentary discoveries (Mendola, 2012), combined with the picture’s more finished style, suggest that it may have been sent by Caravaggio to Palermo from Rome as early as 1600/01.

In these Maltese and Sicilian canvases Caravaggio reiterated and expanded the empty space introduced in the Naples Flagellation, transforming the upper part of the picture into an assertive void. In three of them (the Beheading, the Burial of St Lucy, and the Adoration of the Shepherds) it is accompanied by a greater perspectival depth. These new spatial modes are finely tuned to another development: the location of figures back from the picture plane, usually in tightly knit geometric groupings in which they are bound to each other with a minimum of gesture (e.g. in the arch formed by all the main actors in the Beheading, emphatically located in front of a stone gateway; and the friezes of figures slotted, coulisse-like, into the near or middle distance of the Sicilian paintings). Figures are now smaller in relation to the setting and, because of this and their loss of assertive individuality, more insignificant.

The combined effect of these strategies is to encourage a more detached and contemplative reading of the drama, at arm’s length, and a related sense of the fixed and tragic fate of man. These pictures attain a new emotional intensity, conveyed primarily by an almost total abandonment of any but the most essential gestures and a corresponding channeling of feeling into restrained postures and intense facial expressions. The downcast gaze, always a favourite of Caravaggio but now imbued with a deeper sense of melancholy and pathos, becomes a leitmotif. In the Maltese and Sicilian altarpieces it acquires added resonance from the fact that the focus of attention for the onlookers is invariably on or near the ground: the corpses of St John, St Lucy, and Lazarus or the figure of the Christ Child in the Messina Adoration. In the Sicilian paintings Caravaggio may have been encouraged in this path of humility by the fact that most were done for Mendicant churches (Capuchins; Franciscans). But he equally took advantage of the archetypal subject-matter to transform them into more generalized discourses on life and death.

Caravaggio returned to Naples in September or October 1609. Here, having unsuccessfully tried to placate the Grand Master of the Order of St John, Alof de Wignacourt, with a ‘Herodias’ with the Head of St John the Baptist in a Basin (either the Salome in the Pal. Real, Madrid, or, more likely, that in the N.G., London), Caravaggio was surrounded outside the notorious Locanda del Cerriglio by a group of armed men (probably Knights of St John or their agents) and badly wounded in the face (as reported in a letter of 24 Oct 1609). Despite this near fatal incident, Caravaggio produced a remaining handful of masterpieces, mainly towards the end of this second Neapolitan period; his one altarpiece, for the Fenaroli Chapel of the church of S Anna dei Lombardi, a Resurrection, was apparently destroyed in 1805, although it may be reflected in the Resurrection by Louis Finson (1610; Aix-en-Provence, St Jean-de-Malte). In the Denial of St Peter (New York, Met.), the St John the Baptist, and David with the Head of Goliath (both Rome, Gal. Borghese), all c1610, he kept the figures well up towards the picture plane and filling much of the canvas. In one very late work, however, the Martyrdom of St Ursula (before 11 May 1610; Naples, Banca Commerciale Italiana) for Marcantonio Doria, he combined a fully foregrounded relief of figures with an echoing void above their heads. The two Borghese pictures, both executed in the fluid and painterly manner of Caravaggio’s final years, although some would date the David to slightly earlier, c1606–7, are distinguished by his propensity for harnessing his own increasingly melancholic insights into the human condition to the iconography of Christian art. The young nude in the St John the Baptist is a far cry from his ebullient predecessor (Rome, Pin. Capitolina) or the somewhat contrived brooding of Ottavio Costa’s version (c1602–3; Kansas City, MO, Nelson–Atkins Mus.); he merely asserts his presence by his existence. It is Caravaggio’s last, affectionately lingering essay on a favourite theme. The David with the Head of Goliath, by contrast, transforms the more transcendental mood of the slightly earlier Vienna version into a brooding, poetic meditation on the artist’s own mortality. For the head of Goliath, proffered to the viewer by David, who glances down at it with a sad (perhaps valedictory) look, bears the features of Caravaggio himself – ravaged, as might be expected by the summer of 1610.

The St John formed part of the cargo Caravaggio had with him as he sailed north in July 1610; the David may have been sent to Rome in advance or left behind in Naples for the time being. They were apparently gifts for Pope Paul V and Cardinal Scipione Borghese, part of a deal brokered above all, it would seem, by Cardinal Ferdinando Gonzaga and Caravaggio’s feudal mistress, Costanza Colonna, whereby Caravaggio was to be pardoned for the murder of Tommasoni and allowed to return to Rome. In such a context, the David with the Head of Goliath acquires an altogether new significance – as a characteristically pungent conceit, with Caravaggio offering up to the art-loving Borghese his fictive head instead of the real one that he might have been obliged to forfeit. But he was not to enjoy the pleasure of delivering it in person. When his boat put in to Porto Ercole, Caravaggio was mistaken for someone else and arrested. Although released after two days, he died of fever within a week.

II. Working methods and technique.

Caravaggio was credited by his early biographers with introducing two radical working procedures aimed at enhancing the effect of reality: painting his pictures directly from posed models and illuminating the models (and by extension the pictures) with directed light from a high source, variously identified as a window or lamp (for discussion of Caravaggio’s lighting, see §I above). Visual and technical analysis alike confirm the essential accuracy of this account.

There are precedents for such approaches both as regards lighting and the use of models. However, their combination and sustained application by Caravaggio in his mature religious art did constitute a significantly novel agenda, especially when viewed, as he surely intended, in opposition to the more idealized formulation of the human figure and more calculated articulation of movement that his great classicizing contemporary Annibale Carracci arrived at through extensive use of preparatory drawings and then subjected to a generally much more even lighting in his finished paintings.

Not one drawing by Caravaggio has been identified, although a study of an arm and part of a torso attributed to his master, Peterzano, is so close to the Sick Little Bacchus as to give one pause. Caravaggio undoubtedly limited his drawing to the most ephemeral of compositional studies, which he discarded as soon as they had served their purpose as guides to the posing of models from whom he would then paint. There is some evidence that such procedures were not altogether unknown in northern Italy during the 16th century, especially in a Venice that reputedly advocated the primacy of painting over drawing. But the precise nature of Venetian practice and the extent, therefore, to which Caravaggio may have pushed it to extremes, remains conjectural. His devotion to the medium of oil paint was also rooted in Venetian priorities, although Caravaggio went further than most of his north Italian precursors in totally avoiding fresco. Nearly all of Caravaggio’s paintings were on canvas. The weaves vary greatly over the course of his career to include almost all of those available at the time.

Only two of Caravaggio’s surviving paintings are on panel – the Odescalchi Conversion of St Paul (cypress) and the Vienna David (poplar). The fact that cypress is one of the most expensive and durable of woods, that Cerasi was one of the richest men in Rome, and that Caravaggio’s replacement version, probably done after Cerasi’s death, was on canvas confirm that the choice of support was the patron’s and that the artist himself preferred the more receptive and pliable nature of canvas – as might be expected from a painter trained in northern Italy, devoted to naturalistic effects, and intent on working ‘alla prima’. The Vienna David was painted on top of a pre-existing Mannerist-style picture of vertical alignment, but Caravaggio turned it on its side, in keeping with his regular preference for the horizontal in private commissions of more than one figure. This may have been related to the greater ease with which posed models could be accommodated to such a format.

Caravaggio seems often in his early years in Rome to have employed a grey or grey–green ground characteristic of 16th-century Lombard painters such as Moretto, Moroni, and Peterzano. It is apparently evident in the Sick Little Bacchus, the Boy with a Basket of Fruit, the Penitent Magdalene, The Fortune-teller, and The Cardsharps (Christiansen, 1986). Schneider (restorer, and contributor to the 1991–2 monographic exh. cat.), however, first cast doubt on the findings and then, according to Christiansen (1992), conceded them – while maintaining that the grey was superimposed on an underlying brown ground. Whatever the case, the presence of grey immediately beneath the final picture layer in these works now seems agreed and plays a part in determining the comparatively light tonality of the finished paint surface. Whether it is also an indication of the pictures’ priority among the early works is less certain.

At some point Caravaggio switched wholesale to darker grounds – especially the reddish-brown that was favoured by those in contemporary Roman circles (including Arpino) and was to become almost universal in the 17th century. But it is likely that Caravaggio experimented occasionally with brown grounds at a very early stage (e.g. in the Longhi Boy Bitten by a Lizard). Caravaggio’s subsequent devotion to dark grounds was closely bound up with the evolution of his chiaroscuro. They helped to absorb the middle tones and intensify shadows – the former enhancing tonal unity, the latter augmenting the effect of relief by establishing sharper contrasts with the strongly lit areas. In later years, when he worked more rapidly and was less concerned with finish, he allowed the ground to show through in several places and to act as a middle tone in its own right.

The precise colours of Caravaggio’s dark grounds are only gradually offering up their secrets to technical analysis. They can be made up of several different colours (as in the Detroit Magdalene), thereby engendering some very vibrant effects. While the overall appearance in his middle years was, more often than not, of a deep reddish-brown (as in the London Supper at Emmaus), it could also veer more towards umber or even pure red (as in the Capitoline St John). Towards the end of his career, he sometimes opted for even darker grounds, which included a good deal of black (e.g. the National Gallery Salome).

That Caravaggio used two principal techniques for establishing the outlines of his figures on the ground, brush drawing in a light value and incisions with a sharp instrument such as a stylus, is confirmed by X-rays, infra-red reflectography, raking light, and the evidence of the naked eye. The fact that both procedures are evident only along certain contours does not necessarily imply that they were not more extensive. Some of the lines may be concealed by paint, which is, in several instances, impervious to X-ray. Indeed, the brush-drawn outlines are likely to have extended throughout the composition.

The incised lines are more problematical. While the use of incisions for transferring whole cartoons to plaster or panel was traditional, as was the technique of incising straight lines to mark out the edges of architectural or semi-architectural elements such as tables, Caravaggio’s employment of them in a sporadic fashion along the curved contours of parts of limbs or faces has no known precedent in Renaissance art. Yet this might simply be due to the fact that so few 16th- and 17th-century pictures have been examined with a view to finding them. It may also be that there are more of them underneath the rather thick paint of pictures such as the London Supper at Emmaus, but it is more likely that Caravaggio used them only to mark summarily the position of certain key contours, either in order to ‘fix’ the position of a model’s pose on the canvas or as guidelines to composition, perhaps both. While the latter procedure could have been an established one (and had certainly been followed by ancient Roman wall painters), the former may have been a relative novelty generated by his practice of working directly from the model.

Apart from these enigmatic incisions, Caravaggio also sometimes used the end of a brush handle to scrape away surface paint and to create an embossed effect, as in the drapery of the St Catherine; while on at least one occasion, in The Cardsharps, he resorted to the Titianesque expedient of using the tips of his fingers (to dab on the decorative markings on the older cheat’s doublet).

The evidence for Caravaggio having painted directly from models is more substantial than the speculation about the role of incisions. In the first instance, he clearly used the same model for different pictures – most unequivocally in the St Catherine and the Conversion of the Magdalene. Correspondingly, there is a succession of strikingly different models for the same character in different pictures. Such a policy did not prevent him from making minor adjustments to their features to improve characterization. Indeed, X-ray and infra-red photographs of one picture, the Sacrifice of Isaac (c1603; Florence, Uffizi), seem to indicate that he used the same model in two different poses for the figures of both Isaac and the angel, modifying his features considerably on the final paint surface, especially for the angel. It is doubtful, however, that this was his normal practice as regards facial appearance. It seems to have been determined in this instance by the apparently unusual circumstance of him using the same model for different figures within a single painting.

This case raises equally fundamental (and as yet unanswered) questions as to whether Caravaggio always painted from one model at a time, and then collaged the individual life studies together, or whether, as might be assumed, he sometimes posed more than one figure. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine him not resorting at some stage in the pictorial process to group posing in order to calculate the full effects of composition and lighting.

The comparatively few surviving works by Caravaggio need not suggest that he was a slow worker. Indeed, the implication of van Mander’s account that he did not work steadfastly is that he worked relatively quickly when he did (see §III below). The grainy texture of a number of pictures suggests that he used a drying agent (perhaps litharge) in order to expedite production. For all that, his early and middle period works are immaculately finished, in the best Lombard traditions. The degree of smooth-finished detail that he achieved would have been possible only with a fluid oil medium (probably linseed), perhaps diluted with turpentine, and applied with soft brushes. The paint surface in the early works, however, tends to be thinner than in the usually dense application of his maturity.

Despite Caravaggio’s predominantly smooth application of paint, there is a marked undercurrent in his work of more expressive, Venetian-type brushwork. It is especially evident in his handling of draperies, not least in the multidirectional and fluid brushstrokes of such early works as the Concert of Youths and the Ecstasy of St Francis; or in the green drape of the Magdalene in the Detroit Conversion, where he built the colour effect out of juxtaposed patches of variously brushed colour, rather than through his usual superimposition. Such effects go hand-in-hand with an equally Venetian concern with beautiful colour chords. Several of the works of the 1590s are distinguished by an almost equal fascination with both colour and texture, and while both are, at least superficially, subordinated in the middle years to tone and finish, closer inspection often reveals even there beautifully subtle passages of colour and a controlled mastery of the interaction of smooth, glazed areas with brief flourishes of impasto or dexterously free brushwork.

Caravaggio’s tendencies towards the Venetian tradition acquired a renewed and highly individualistic lease of life in his last years. By then he had abandoned his previous obsession with the minute imitation of nature, opting instead for a much freer technique. It is as if his masterly brush-drawing method, originally used primarily for preparatory purposes, had come to the surface and dictated the aesthetic tenor of the image. A mixture of free-flowing and sporadic brushwork allows the priming to show through in several places, acting as a middle tone. Impastoed highlights and glazed shadows are applied in a bold, schematic fashion that is highly evocative of form when seen from a distance, but almost abstract at close quarters. The pools of shadow overlaying eye sockets, for example, become either like Giant Panda markings, barely translucent, or like ragged stains, while the highlights that indicate their raised surrounds are regular, broad sweeps of impastoed white.

Caravaggio’s limited palette from the time he espoused chiaroscuro onwards (c1598–9) was dominated by red and yellow ochres, earth colours (such as umber), charcoal black, lead white, lead tin yellow, green resinate of copper, and cinnabar red. Earths and ochres predominated, and brighter colours were always veiled. Bellori’s assertion that Caravaggio considered cinnabar red and azure blue poisons among the colours and that, when he did use them, he toned them down is borne out both by observation and technical analysis. He used blue very rarely outside the Virgin’s mantle, and his cinnabar reds (vermilions) are muted with earth and other dark colours in the drape of the Capitoline St John. While he obviously mixed colours (both on the palette and the canvas), he tended to keep his pigments pure and extended this habit to his treatment of shadows, where he usually darkened with deeper tints of the underlying object rather than with some other dark colour.

III. Character and personality.

Caravaggio’s widely mythologized character and personality remain an enigma. His fiery temper, arbitrary behaviour, propensity for violence, and bohemian way of life are amply documented in strictly contemporary records. His subsequent 17th-century aesthetic detractors (especially Bellori) had no need of exaggeration when they invoked his remarkably unstable mentality in explanation of his, to them, deviant art. Yet it is important to guard against reductive interpretations: his demonization by 17th-century critics was by turns crude and subtle, and modern assessments can be equally one-track, either in the inclination to brand him a psychopath or in the tendency to give centre-stage to what has been described in some modern historiography as his possible homosexuality.

The few contemporary characterizations were, for the most part, neither precise nor judgemental. What they agreed on was Caravaggio’s extreme strangeness. An adjective that occurs twice is ‘stravagantissimo’, which can be rendered, roughly, as ‘very strange/bizarre/eccentric’. ‘Stravagante’ is difficult to translate from the Italian, since its meaning depends on the context in which it is used and, even then, does not always have a precise focus. It always implies a transgression of normal behaviour, but this can assume many forms, from foibles and mild eccentricities to actions bordering on, and crossing, the threshold of sanity. It is often used indulgently in connection with the artistic temperament. In Caravaggio’s case, however, the use of the superlative form, ‘stravagantissimo’, implies an unusual degree of ‘extravagance’, even for an artist.

The word first surfaces in a letter of 24 August 1605, from Fabio Masetti to Count Giovanni Battista Laderchi, in which Masetti quotes Cardinal del Monte as saying that Caravaggio is ‘uno cervello stravagantissimo’ (‘an extremely odd person’), in a context that implies that this made him very unreliable. The designation probably soon became common currency and was used by Giulio Mancini, who believed that Caravaggio’s ‘stravaganze’ served to shorten his life by at least ten years and partly to diminish the glory he had gained through his profession. Mancini’s deployment of the noun in this extended sense to hint at a life of excess as well as an unusual character indicates the flexibility of the term. Neither can such views be dismissed as the spiteful gossip of the Roman intelligentsia. A provincial Sicilian patron in Messina, Niccolò di Giacomo, arrived at a remarkably similar conclusion in the summer of 1609, when he referred to Caravaggio in a memorandum as ‘this painter with a highly disturbed brain [“cervello stravolto”]’.

Caravaggio’s quick temper and provocative speech were intimately implicated in the series of violent incidents that punctuated his life. Karel van Mander (1604) wrote that he ‘does not pursue his studies steadfastly; so that after a fortnight’s work he will swagger about for a month or two with a sword at his side and with a servant following him, from one tennis-court to the next, ever ready to engage in a fight or an argument, with the result that it is most difficult to get along with him’. Some of the details of this account are verifiable from trial records and newspaper reports. The former show that Caravaggio was brought to trial no less than 11 times between October 1600 and September 1605. The charges ranged widely. They included beating an acquaintance with a stick; wounding with a sword or hunting-knife (twice); throwing stones (twice, including once at the window of his ex-landlady); throwing a plate of artichokes at a waiter whom he deemed to have insulted him; carrying a sword and dagger without a licence; swearing crudely at a constable; and, together with the painter Orazio Gentileschi and the architect Onorio Longhi, writing satirical verses about the painter Baglione. If Caravaggio’s hot temper and sharp tongue were often the immediate catalysts of hostilities, several art historians have argued that more deep-seated causes were obviously at work. The strongest impression to emerge is of Caravaggio’s enduring anger. Its roots in early experience may have included feelings of resentment at the loss of his father when he was only six and of his mother when he was eighteen (for psychoanalytic interpretations, see Röttgen, 1974, and Hibbard, 1983).

There was also a social dimension to Caravaggio’s delinquency, as his adversary, Baglione, conceded when he stated that Caravaggio was often in the company of men who were as belligerent as he was. He moved in a bohemian circle, which included soldiers of the papal guard, a bookseller, a perfumier, and the Brescian painter Prospero Orsi, as well as Longhi and Gentileschi. Its members often accompanied him on his perambulations and were always among the first to give evidence in his favour or bail him out when he was apprehended. There is no reason to believe that Caravaggio was the undisputed leader of the clique, and some to show that others, such as Onorio Longhi, played an equally prominent part. Sandrart claimed that the group took as its motto the Stoic tag ‘nec spe, nec metu’ (Lat.: ‘without hope or fear’), which gives a self-consciously philosophical twist to Baglione’s avowal of Caravaggio’s excessively fearless nature.

However, there is also evidence to suggest that Caravaggio’s acts of violence were, to some degree, rooted in traditional conceptions of ‘honour’ – as when, on his own testimony, he wounded Mariano Pasqualone in the back of the head for having insulted him and then refusing to settle the matter with swords; or, if Sandrart is to be believed, when he issued a similar duelling challenge to the Cavaliere d’Arpino. Whatever its causes, Caravaggio’s extremism had important implications for his art. The bold contrasts of his chiaroscuro, the sharp intensity of his characterizations, and his insistence on the superiority of the seen over the ideal do not seem unconnected with his uncompromising way of seeing the world in terms of polarities, and other people as either for him or against him.

Caravaggio’s self-absorption also manifests itself artistically in the self-portraits that he introduced in several pictures. They have no simple explanation. An element of attitudinizing seems to co-exist, in some instances, with genuine exploration of his own emotions. There is also, perhaps, a hint of narcissism, suggested by Bellori’s backhanded observation that Caravaggio ‘availed himself of only the finest materials and velvets worn by noblemen; but once he had put on a suit of clothes, he changed it only when it had fallen into rags’ – a plausibly bohemian detail.

The precise nature of Caravaggio’s sexuality remains controversial, perhaps because the evidence points so unequivocally towards his having been bisexual. The only references to the matter in his lifetime (in the Roman trial transcripts) indicate that he consorted with prostitutes and had a kept boy. A certain Lena ‘who stood in the Piazza Navona’ was, according to Mariano Pasqualone’s testimony on 29 July 1605, ‘Caravaggio’s girl’. While in his testimony of 28 August 1603, at the Baglione libel trial, Mao Salini claimed that one of the people who distributed copies of the satirical verses was a youth called Giovan Battista, a bardassa of Caravaggio and Onorio Longhi. Some modern commentators have claimed that bardassa in this context may simply mean servant, but this is unlikely. A bardassa was a bardash or catamite – a boy kept for sexual favours.

The subsequent 17th- and early 18th-century sources refer only to boys, thereby reinforcing the impression of a predominantly homosexual reputation. Manili, in his guide to the Villa Borghese (1650), stated that the figure of David in the Borghese David with the Head of Goliath was modelled on the artist’s Caravaggino (his ‘little Caravaggio’); while the English artist and writer Richard Symonds was informed about the same time by those in the Palazzo Giustiniani that the model used by Caravaggio for Vincenzo Giustiniani’s provocative Cupid was the future Caravaggist painter Cecco del Caravaggio, ‘who was his servant or boy that laid with him’. Such perceptions were doubtless also fortified through scrutiny of Caravaggio’s art. The aura of homoeroticism that Caravaggio’s half-lengths and ‘Michelangelesque’ nudes exude enhances the rumoured tradition of his pederasty. Nevertheless, Cavavaggio’s female figures can also be strongly sensual. In any case, as modern historiography has both increasingly characterized and problematized attempts to describe pre-modern sexuality, Caravaggio’s work and what we know of his life have been strong fodder for this debate.

IV. Influence.

Caravaggio’s bold style, naturalistic ambitions, and revolutionary working procedures attracted a large artistic following in the first 30 years of the 17th century. For much of this period Caravaggism was the main stylistic alternative in Italy to the classicism of the Carracci. It also held a great appeal for many of the northern European artists visiting Rome and Naples (perhaps in part because of its compatibility with traditional Netherlandish conceptions of naturalism) and was soon transported back to their native lands. It did not survive as a movement much beyond 1630 (except in provincial locations), yet, in a broader sense, Caravaggio’s influence was pervasive throughout the century, with his realism and chiaroscuro making more than a passing impression on such major figures as Rubens, Rembrandt, Velázquez, and Murillo.

However, Caravaggism was never a homogeneous studio style like those propagated by the Carracci, Rubens, and Rembrandt. It was, rather, disseminated through direct contact with his works and those of his close followers. A familiarity with at least some of Caravaggio’s paintings, usually in Rome (or, to a lesser extent, Naples), and an inclination to adopt both his motifs and the idiosyncrasies of his iconography are essential conditions of a genuine Caravaggism. However, for the very reason that such influence usually derived from study of Caravaggio’s paintings rather than personal tuition, the boundaries of the movement were always loosely defined, with the majority of Caravaggists selecting only certain elements of the master’s art and grafting them on to their own, sometimes quite different, regional or national traditions.

The process of emulation began in Caravaggio’s own lifetime. Baglione, Orazio Gentileschi, Orazio Borgianni, Guido Reni, and Carlo Saraceni all adopted aspects of his style while he was still in Rome. He seems to have had at least one pupil/assistant in Rome, Cecco del Caravaggio, and conceivably another, Bartolomeo Manfredi. After Caravaggio’s flight from Rome in 1606, a Caravaggist movement began to develop there, with Orazio Gentileschi, Carlo Saraceni, Orazio Borgianni, and Bartolomeo Manfredi in the vanguard. It was Manfredi, above all, who popularized the Caravaggesque style in the second decade of the 17th century. One of his most influential contributions was to reinvigorate the subject-matter of Caravaggio’s early narrative genre pictures with the chiaroscuro of his mature art. Manfredi had a strong impact on the many artists who passed through his flourishing studio in the period c1615–22, not least on a large contingent of northern Europeans.

Among the Dutch Caravaggists (who hailed mainly from Utrecht), Hendrick ter Brugghen alone does not seem to have responded to Manfredi. In fact he left Rome in 1614. By contrast, Dirck van Baburen, Gerrit van Honthorst, and Jan van Bijlert, as well as the Fleming Gerard Seghers and the Walloon painters, Nicolas Régnier and Gérard Douffet, were all greatly influenced by the ‘Manfredi Manner’, as were the Frenchmen Simon Vouet, Valentin de Boulogne, and Nicolas Tournier. The young Spanish master Jusepe Ribera, who is probably the author of several of the canvases previously attributed to the Master of the Judgement of Solomon, also seems to have exchanged ideas with Manfredi while working in Rome. Their respective styles drew freely on the works of Caravaggio, Manfredi, and even other Caravaggists of the first generation (see Utrecht Caravaggisti).

Caravaggio’s last four Wanderjahre also spawned Caravaggist enclaves in the south, most notably and enduringly in Naples, where Carlo Sellitto, Giovanni Battista Caracciolo, and Filippo Vitale were among his closest disciples. Other Caravaggists operating in Italy in the period c1610–40 included the Italians Artemisia Gentileschi, Giovanni Serodine, Orazio Riminaldi, Giovanni Antonio Galli (lo Spadarino), Rutilio Manetti, Pietro Paolini, Bartolomeo Cavarozzi, and Angelo Caroselli; the Frenchmen Claude Vignon, Guy François, Trophime Bigot, and the Pensionante del Saraceni; the Lorraine artists Jean Leclerc and Georges de La Tour (one of the greatest and most original of Caravaggio’s disciples); the Flemings Louis Finson and Theodoor Rombouts; the Dutchman Matthias Stom; the Spaniards Alonzo Rodriguez and Juan Bautista Maino; the Germans Johann Liss and Johann Loth; and the Maltese Andrea Risto.

V. Critical reception and posthumous reputation.

The preoccupations and boundaries of nearly all subsequent Caravaggio criticism were set by an exceptionally rich crop of written responses to his art during the 17th century. Contrary to received opinion, none of these were unreservedly hostile, and some were strongly affirmative. All praised his tremendous powers of imitation and his colouring. The early commentators and those from northern Europe were the most enthusiastic – not afraid of voicing specific objections, but without seeking to minimize his stature. They included the Dutch artist Karel van Mander (1604), the papal physician and connoisseur Giulio Mancini (c1617–30), Caravaggio’s patron Vincenzo Giustiniani (c1620–30), and the German painter Joachim von Sandrart (1675–9). Nonetheless, the classic–idealist objection to the unadorned quality of his naturalism, already implicit in Federico Zuccaro’s reputed disdain for the ‘Giorgionismo’ of the Contarelli laterals, received a remarkably early written airing in the manuscript treatise on painting (c1607–15) of Monsignor Giambattista Agucchi, a close friend of Annibale Carracci and Domenichino. For him, Caravaggio, like the ancient sculptor Demetrios of Alopeke, had ‘abandoned the idea of beauty, intent only on the attainment of likeness’. Such views became increasingly the common currency of art criticism, reinforced no doubt by the enduring popularity of Bolognese classicism as an aesthetic yardstick.

Gradually, certain criticisms raised in an even-handed way by Mancini – about Caravaggio’s excessive dependence on the model and consequent shortcomings in the articulation of dramatic narrative and the convincing portrayal of movement, as well as about his ‘unnatural’ lighting – became, in the hands of academically minded painters and literati of the mid-century (Carducho, 1633; Baglione, 1642; Scannelli, 1657; Bellori, 1672; and Scaramuccia, 1674), the linchpin of a sustained drive to marginalize his achievement. These academic critics vied with one another in their search for the most damning epithet, but they also frequently used each other’s terminology. The language of criticism was self-perpetuating. Carducho’s witty diatribe, in which he demonized Caravaggio as the artistic equivalent of the Anti-Christ – an alluring ‘Anti-Michelangelo’, whose ‘impetuous, unheard-of and outrageous technique of painting without preparation’ had seduced all too many artists from the ‘true doctrine’ of study and draughtsmanship – was only the most colourful formulation of what was fast becoming a critical cliché.

More subtle, and much more influential, was Bellori’s long and detailed Vita, a rhetorical masterpiece that all the more effectively damns Caravaggio with faint praise by setting his art for the first time within a coherent framework of historical development. Caravaggio’s distinction was to have supplanted the artifice of the late Maniera with a vigorous naturalism rooted in his Lombard heritage. ‘But’, added Bellori with schoolmasterly aplomb, ‘how easy it is to fall into one extreme while fleeing another.’ Caravaggio and his followers departed from Mannerism only to imitate nature too closely. Running through Bellori’s seemingly judicious and detached analysis, which deftly uses the paraphernalia of scholarship to legitimize his prejudices, is an unrelenting vein of opposition. He orchestrated all the previously voiced criticisms into a finely textured onslaught, in which every individual observation is ingeniously slotted into the overall pattern of disapproval. Caravaggio’s temperamental behaviour, for instance, is a manifestation of his ‘dark nature’, which, in turn, is reflected in his dark style. Moral overtones permeate the essay. For Bellori, Caravaggio’s dependence on the model was doubly pernicious. On the one hand, it was too easy, encouraging young artists to think that they could neglect study and take a short-cut to fame. On the other, it engendered contempt for beautiful things and destroyed the ‘authority’ of Raphael and the Antique. In their place it put the ‘vile’ things of unidealized nature. Indeed, there is a clear element both of class distinction and aesthetic disgust in Bellori’s critique. He claimed that Caravaggio’s followers gratuitously sought out vulgar and ugly forms, including working-class costume, rusty armour, chipped pottery, wrinkled and blemished skin, and limbs disfigured by disease. Caravaggio’s rejection of the Platonism which was central to Bellori’s conception of an improving art was a threat at one and the same time to religion, high culture, and social hierarchy. Bellori also coined one influential critical refinement: that ‘his first style, sweet and pure in colour, was his best’.

Bellori’s classicizing critique held absolute sway for well over a century and remained a major force for much longer. Some of his more purely art-historical judgements (about Caravaggio’s chronology and stylistic development, for example) even continue to guide the view of the artist today, perhaps more than they should. On the other hand, while several 19th-century critics accepted Bellori’s idealizing perspective, the impact of the Romantic movement, with its stress on individual genius and artistic temperament, made others more indulgent to Caravaggio’s personal and artistic idiosyncrasies. The re-espousal of the legitimacy of individualism in art went hand-in-hand with a new relativism that had developed, from the 18th century onwards, along with the discipline of art history itself. Caravaggio’s style became merely one among the available alternatives.

The 20th century has spawned a veritable Caravaggio industry, which has become fixated, at different stages, on a wide variety of issues – from his anticipation of the techniques of the cinema (Longhi) to his status as an icon for the gay community. Style, iconography, and, latterly, technique have been extensively (though not exhaustively) explored. Moving through the sometimes confusing plethora of analysis has been a stabilizing core of solid connoisseurship, which has often served to focus wider discussions. Its most brilliant practitioners have been Roberto Longhi, Denis Mahon, and Mina Gregori. The attributional debate has witnessed both increases and contractions of Caravaggio’s oeuvre. However, it now stands on the threshold of a new phase. For as our knowledge of the individual styles of Caravaggio’s followers grows, so some of the attempts to expand the master’s own oeuvre have been shown to be misguided.


Early sources

      The most important of the biographies and critical accounts listed below are van Mander, Mancini, Baglione, and Bellori. Most of the relevant passages from these four sources are given in English in H. Hibbard: Caravaggio (London, 1983). The main collection of documents is S. Macioce (2010).

    • K. van Mander: Schilder-boeck ([1603]–1604)
    • G.B. Agucchi: Trattato dell pittura (MS.; Rome, c1607–15); in D. Mahon: Studies in Seicento Art and Theory (London, 1947) [brief but pregnant critique from a classicizing stand-point]
    • G. Mancini: Considerazioni sulla pittura (MS.; Rome, c1617–30); ed. A. Marucchi and L. Salerno, 2 vols. (Rome, 1956–7)
    • V. Giustiniani: ‘Letter on Painting to Theodor Ameyden’ (MS., Rome, c1620–30); in Lettere memorabili dell’Ab. Michele Giustiniani (Rome, 1675); also in G. Bottari and S. Ticozzi, eds.: Raccolta di lettere sulla pittura (Milan, 1822–5), vi; Eng. trans. in R. Enggass and J. Brown: Italy and Spain, 1600–1750, Sources & Doc. Hist. A. (Englewood Cliffs, 1970)
    • V. Carducho: Diálogos de la pintura (Madrid, 1633); Eng. trans. in R. Enggass and J. Brown: Italy and Spain, 1600–1750, Sources & Doc. Hist. A. (Englewood Cliffs, 1970)
    • G. Baglione: Vite (1642); ed. V. Mariani (1935)
    • F. Scannelli: Il microcosmo della pittura, overo trattato diviso in due libri (Cesena, 1657); ed. R. Lepori, 2 vols. (Bologna, 1980); Eng. trans. in Hibbard (London, 1983)
    • G.P. Bellori: Vite (1672); ed. E. Borea (1976)
    • L. Scaramuccia: Le finezze de’ pennelli italiani (Pavia, 1674); Eng. trans. in Hibbard (London, 1983) [only contains a brief but critically interesting ref. to Caravaggio’s lost painting of the Resurrection in S Anna dei Lombardi, Naples]
    • J. von Sandrart: Teutsche Academie (1675–9); ed. A. R. Peltzer (1925); Eng. trans. in Hibbard (London, 1983)
    • F. Susinno: Le vite de’ pittori messinesi e di altri che fiorirono in Messina (MS.; Messina, 1724); ed. V. Martinelli (Florence, 1960); Eng. trans. of parts of his life of Caravaggio in Hibbard (London, 1983)
    • G. Berra: Il Giovane Caravaggio in Lombardia: Ricerche documentarie sui Merisi, gli Aratori e i marchesi di Caravaggio (Florence, 2005)
    • S. Macioce: Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio: Documenti, fonti e inventari 1513–1875 (Rome, 2010)
    • Caravaggio a Roma: Una Vita dal Vero (exh. cat., ed. M. Di Sivio and O. Verdi; Rome, Archv Stato, 2011)
  • D. Mahon: Studies in Seicento Art and Theory (London, 1947)
  • R. Wittkower: Art and Architecture in Italy, 1600–1750, Pelican Hist. A. (Harmondsworth, 1958, rev. 1973, 1980, and (ed. J. Montagu and J. Connors), 1999)
  • S. Freedberg: Circa 1600: A Revolution of Style in Italian Painting (Cambridge, MA, and London, 1983)
Monographs, exhibition catalogues, symposia
  • M. Marangoni: Il Caravaggio (Florence, 1922)
  • Mostra del Caravaggio e dei Caravaggeschi (exh. cat. by R. Longhi and others, Milan, Pal. Reale, 1951)
  • R. Longhi: Il Caravaggio (Milan, 1952, Rome, 2/1968, 3/1982, with intro. by G. Previtali)
  • R. Hinks: Michelangelo da Caravaggio (London, 1953)
  • F. Baumgart: Caravaggio: Kunst und Wirklichkeit (Berlin, 1955)
  • W. Friedlaender: Caravaggio Studies (Princeton, 1955, rev. New York, 1969)
  • Artists in 17th-century Rome (exh. cat., ed. D. Mahon and D. Sutton; London, Wildenstein’s, 1955) [entry by D. Mahon on St John the Baptist (?1602; Rome, Pin. Capitolina)]
  • R. Jullian: Caravage (Lyon and Paris, 1961)
  • M. Kitson: The Complete Paintings of Caravaggio (London, 1969, rev. Harmondsworth, 1985)
  • Caravaggio e Caravaggeschi nelle gallerie di Firenze (exh. cat., ed. E. Borea; Florence, Pitti, 1970)
  • Caravaggio and his Followers (exh. cat. by R. Spear, Cleveland, OH, Mus. A., 1971) [cat. rev. New York, 1975]
  • Caravaggio y el naturalismo español (exh. cat. by A. Pérez-Sánchez, Seville, Alcázar, 1973)
  • Immagine del Caravaggio (exh. cat., ed. M. Cinotti; Bergamo, Pal. Ragione; Caravaggio; Brescia; 1973)
  • Burlington Magazine, vol. 116 (1974) [special issue on Caravaggio and followers; includes several articles on the Conversion of the Magdalene (Detroit, MI, Inst. A.)]
  • Colloquio sul tema Caravaggio e i Caravaggeschi: Roma, 1974
  • M. Marini: Io Michelangelo da Caravaggio (Rome, 1974)
  • H. Röttgen: Il Caravaggio: Ricerche e interpretazioni (Rome, 1974)
  • M. Cinotti, ed.: Novità sul Caravaggio (Regione Lombardia, 1975)
  • F. Bardon: Caravage, ou l’expérience de la matière (Paris, 1978)
  • The Church of St John’s in Valletta, 1578–1978 (exh. cat., ed. J. Azzopardi; Malta, St John’s, 1978)
  • J. Gash: Caravaggio (London, 1980, 2/1988; rev. 3/2003)
  • A. Moir: Caravaggio (New York, 1982, concise edn. 1988)
  • Painting in Naples, 1606–1705: From Caravaggio to Giordano (exh. cat., ed. C. Whitfield and J. Martineau; London, RA; Washington, DC, N.G.A.; Paris, Grand Pal., Turin, Fond. Agnelli; 1982–4)
  • M. Cinotti: Michelangelo Merisi da il Caravaggio: Tutte le opere, intro. G. A. dell’Acqua (Bergamo, 1983) [the most complete cat.]
  • H. Hibbard: Caravaggio (London, 1983) [the most well-rounded modern study in Eng., with trans. of the main 17th-century biogs and crit.]
  • Caravaggio in Sicilia: Il suo tempo, il suo influsso (exh. cat. by V. Abbate and others, Syracuse, Pal. Bellomo, 1984)
  • The Age of Caravaggio (exh. cat., New York, Met.; Naples, Capodimonte; 1985)
  • M. Calvesi and L. Trigilia, eds.: L’ultimo Caravaggio e la cultura artistica a Napoli, in Sicilia e a Malta (Syracuse, 1987)
  • M. Gregori: ‘Michelangelo Merisi detto il Caravaggio’, Dopo Caravaggio: Bartolomeo Manfredi e la Manfrediana Methodus (exh. cat., ed. M. C. Poma; Cremona, 1987), pp. 50–57
  • M. Marini: Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio ‘pictor praestantissimus’ (Rome, 1987; rev. 1989; rev. 2005)
  • D. Bernini, ed.: Caravaggio: Nuove riflessioni (Rome, 1989)
  • M. Calvesi: Le realtà del Caravaggio (Turin, 1990)
  • M. Cinotti: Caravaggio: La vita e l’opera (Bergamo, 1991) [good critical biog.; excellent pls]
  • Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio: Come nascono i capolavori (exh. cat., ed. M. Gregori; Florence, Pitti; Rome, Pal. Ruspoli; 1991–2) [extensive disc. of technique, as well as questions of attrib.; excellent pls; indispensable distillation of recent scholarship]
  • F. Bologna: L’incredulità del Caravaggio (Turin, 1992)
  • S. Corradini: Caravaggio: Materiali per un processo (Rome, 1993) [contains new docs]
  • R. Bassani and F. Bellini: Caravaggio assassino (Rome, 1994)
  • J. Gash: Caravaggio (New York, 1994)
  • S. Macioce: ‘Caravaggio a Malta e i suoi referenti: Notizie d’archivio’, Storia dell’arte, vol. 81 (1994), pp.207–28
  • Caravaggio e la collezione Mattei (exh. cat., Rome, Pal. Barberini, 1995)
  • H. Langdon: Caravaggio: A Life (London, 1998)
  • C. Puglisi: Caravaggio (London, 1998)
  • J. T. Spike: Caravaggio, 2 vols. (New York and London, 2001–10) [with full cat.]
  • H. Röttgen: Il Cavalier Giuseppe Cesari D’Arpino: Un grande pittore nello splendore della fama e nell’inconstanza della fortuna (Rome, 2002)
  • L. Sickel: Caravaggio’s Rom: Annäherungen an ein dissonantes Milieu (Emsdetten, 2003)
  • Caravaggio: The Final Years (exh. cat., ed. N. Spinosa, Naples, Capodimonte and London, N.G., 2004–5)
  • M. Marini: Caravaggio Pictor Praestantissimus. L’ iter artistico completo di uno dei massimi rivoluzionari dell’arte di tutti i tempi (Rome, 2005) [with full cat.]
  • Caravaggio e L’Europa: Il movimento caravaggesco internazionale da Caravaggio a Mattia Preti (exh. cat., ed. L. Spezzaferro, Milan, Pal. Reale and Vienna, Pal. Liechtenstein, 2005–6)
  • K. Sciberras and D. Stone: Caravaggio: Art, Knighthood and Malta (Valletta, 2006)
  • J. Varriano: Caravaggio: The Art of Realism (University Park, 2006)
  • G. Warwick, ed.: Caravaggio: Realism, Rebellion, Reception (Newark, 2006)
  • Caravaggio and Paintings of Realism in Malta (exh. cat., ed. C. De Giorgio and K. Sciberras; Valletta, St John’s Co-Cathedral Foundation, 2007)
  • S. Schütze: Caravaggio: The Complete Works (Cologne, 2009)
  • F. Cappelletti: Caravaggio: Un ritratto somigliante (Milan, 2010)
  • L. Spezzaferro and M. Fratarcangeli, eds.: Caravaggio e l’Europa: L’artista, la storia, la tecnica e la sua eredità (Milan, 2010)
  • Caravaggio (exh. cat., ed. R. Vodret, Rome, Scuderie del Quirinale, 2010)
  • Caravaggio e caravaggeschi a Firenze (exh. cat., ed. G. Papi, Florence, Pitti and Uffizi, 2010)
  • Roma al Tempo di Caravaggio: 1600–1630 (exh. cat., ed. R. Vodret, Rome, Pal. Venezia, 2011–12)
  • Corps et ombres: Caravage et le caravagisme en Europe (exh. cat., ed. M. Hilaire and A. Hémery, Montpellier, Mus. Fabre and Toulouse, Mus. Augustins, 2012)
  • L. Pericolo and D.M. Stone, eds.: Caravaggio: Reflections and Refractions (Farnham, 2014)
Specialist studies
    Individual works
    • R. Hinks: Caravaggio’s ‘Death of the Virgin’ (Oxford, 1953)
    • R. Longhi: ‘Un originale del Caravaggio a Rouen e il problema delle copie caravaggesche’, Paragone, vol. 11(121) (1960), pp. 23–36
    • H. Röttgen: ‘Die Stellung der Contarelli-Kapelle in Caravaggios Werk’, Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte [merger of Z. Bild. Kst with Repert. Kstwiss. & with Jb. Kstwiss.], vol. 28 (1965), pp. 47–68 [redates the Contarelli Chapel pictures on doc. evidence]
    • D. Heikamp: ‘La Medusa del Caravaggio e l’armatura dello Scià Abbâs di Persia’, Paragone, vol. 17(199) (1966), pp. 62–76
    • R. Enggass: ‘La virtù di un vero nobile: L’Amore Giustiniani del Caravaggio’, Palatino, vol. 11 (1967), pp. 13–20
    • I. Lavin: ‘Addenda to “Divine Inspiration”’, Art Bulletin, vol. 56(4) (1974), pp. 590–91
    • I. Lavin: ‘Divine Inspiration in Caravaggio’s Two St Matthews’, Art Bulletin, vol. 56 (1974), pp. 59–81
    • H. Potterton: ‘The Supper at Emmaus’ by Caravaggio, N.G. series: Painting in Focus, 3 (London, 1975)
    • M. Gregori: ‘Addendum to Caravaggio: The Cecconi Crowning with Thorns Reconsidered’, Burlington Magazine, vol. 18 (1976), pp. 671–80
    • A. Lurie and D. Mahon: ‘Caravaggio’s Crucifixion of St Andrew from Valladolid’, Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art (Jan 1977), pp. 3–24
    • C. Scribner III: ‘In alia effigie: Caravaggio’s London Supper at Emmaus’, Art Bulletin, vol. 59(3) (1977), pp. 375–82
    • G. Wright: ‘Caravaggio’s Entombment Considered in situ’, Art Bulletin, vol. 58(1) (1978), pp. 35–42
    • F. Bologna and V. Pacelli: ‘Caravaggio, 1610: La Sant’ Orsola confitta dal tiranno per Marcantonio Doria’, Prospettiva, vol. 23 (1980), pp. 24–45
    • M. Cordaro: ‘Indagine radiografica sulla Buona Ventura dei Musei Capitolini’, Ricerche di storia dell’arte, vol. 10 (‘Roma nell’ anno 1600’) (1980), pp. 100–06
    • W. Prohaska: ‘Untersuchungen zur Rosenkranz Madonna Caravaggios’, Jahrbuch der kunsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien [prev. pubd as Jb. Ksthist. Samml. Allhöch. Ksrhaus.], vol. 76 (1980), pp. 111–32
    • V. Pacelli: Caravaggio: La sette opere di misericordia (Salerno, 1984)
    • V. Pacelli and A. Brejon de Lavergnée: ‘L’Eclisse del committente? Congetture su un ritratto nella Flagellazione di Caravaggio rivelato dalla radiografia’, Paragone, vol. 36(419–23) (1985), pp. 209–18
    • R. Parks: ‘On Caravaggio’s Dormition of the Virgin and Its Setting’, Burlington Magazine, vol. 127 (1985), pp. 438–48
    • K. Wolfe: ‘Caravaggio: Another Lute Player’, Burlington Magazine, vol. 127 (1985), pp. 450–52
    • M. Wiemers: ‘Caravaggios Amore vincitore im Urteil eines Romfahres um 1650’, Pantheon: Internationale Zeitschrift für Kunst [cont. as Bruckmanns Pantheon], vol. 44 (1986), pp. 59–61
    • K. Christiansen: ‘Technical Report on The Cardsharps’, Burlington Magazine, vol. 130 (1988), pp. 26–7
    • D. Mahon: ‘Fresh Light on Caravaggio’s Earliest Period: His Cardsharps Recovered’, Burlington Magazine, vol. 130 (1988), pp. 10–25
    • P. Askew: Caravaggio’s ‘Death of the Virgin’ (Princeton, 1990); review by J. Gash, Burlington Magazine, vol. 134 (1992), pp. 186–8
    • K. Christiansen: A Caravaggio Rediscovered: The Lute Player (New York, 1990)
    • G. Correale, ed.: Identificazione di un Caravaggio: Nuove tecnologie per una rilettura del ‘San Giovanni Battista’ (Venice, 1990); review by J. Gash, Burlington Magazine, vol. 134 (1992), pp. 186–8
    • K. Christiansen: ‘Some Observations on the Relationship between Caravaggio’s Two Treatments of the Lute-player’, Burlington Magazine, vol. 132 (1990), pp. 21–6
    • D. Mahon: ‘The Singing “Lute-player” by Caravaggio from the Barberini Collection, Painted for Cardinal del Monte’, Burlington Magazine, vol. 132 (1990), pp. 4–20
    • S. J. Warma: ‘Christ, First Fruits, and the Resurrection: Observations on the Fruit Basket in Caravaggio’s London “Supper at Emmaus”’, Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte [merger of Z. Bild. Kst with Repert. Kstwiss. & with Jb. Kstwiss.], vol. 53(4) (1990), pp. 583–6
    • A Caravaggio Rediscovered: The ‘Lute Player’ (exh. cat. by K. Christiansen, New York, Met., 1990)
    • S. Benedetti: Caravaggio: The Master Revealed (Dublin, 1993) [on the Taking of Christ]
    • S. Benedetti: ‘Caravaggio’s Taking of Christ: A Masterpiece Rediscovered’, Burlington Magazine, vol. 135 (1993), pp. 731–41
    • F. Cappelletti: ‘The Documentary Evidence of the Early History of Caravaggio’s Taking of Christ’, Burlington Magazine, vol. 135 (1993), pp. 742–5
    • I. Lavin: ‘Caravaggio’s Calling of St. Matthew: The Identity of the Protagonist’, Past-Present (Berkeley, 1993), pp. 84–99
    • J. Gash: ‘The Identity of Caravaggio’s “Knight of Malta”’, Burlington Magazine, vol. 139 (1997), pp. 156–60
    • D. Stone: ‘The Context of Caravaggio’s “Beheading of St. John” in Malta’, Burlington Magazine, vol. 139 (1997), pp. 161–70
    • L. Keith: ‘Three Paintings by Caravaggio’, National Gallery Technical Bulletin, vol. 19 (1998)
    • Il Caravaggio Odescalchi: Le due versioni della Conversione di san Paolo a confronto (exh. cat., ed. R. Vodret, Rome, S Maria del Popolo, 2006)
    • V. Merlini and D. Storti, eds.: Caravaggio: Adorazione dei pastori (Milan, 2010)
    • C. Stoullig, ed.: L’Annonciation du Caravage: La restauration d’un chef-d’oeuvre du musée des beaux-arts de Nancy (Nancy, 2010)
    • G. Mendola: Il Caravaggio di Palermo e l’Oratorio Di San Lorenzo (Palermo, 2012)
  • D. Mahon: ‘Egregius in urbe pictor: Caravaggio Revised’, Burlington Magazine, vol. 93 (1951), pp. 223–34
  • D. Mahon: ‘Addenda to Caravaggio’, Burlington Magazine, vol. 94 (1952), pp. 3–23
  • L. Venturi and G. Urbani: ‘Studi radiografici sul Caravaggio’, Atti dell’Accademia nazionale dei Lincei, memorie della classe di scienze morali, storiche e filologiche, vol. 8(5) (1952), pp. 37–46
  • D. Mahon: ‘On Some Aspects of Caravaggio and His Times’, Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, vol. 12 (1953), pp. 33–45
  • J. Hess: ‘Modelle e modelli del Caravaggio’, Commentari, vol. 5 (1954), pp. 271–89
  • L. Salerno: ‘Caravaggio e il priore della Consolazione’, Commentari, vol. 6 (1955), pp. 258–60
  • R. Longhi: Opere Complete, 14 vols. (Florence, 1956–91)
  • D. Macrae: ‘Observations on the Sword in Caravaggio’, Burlington Magazine, vol. 106 (1964), pp. 412–16
  • L. Salerno, D. Kinkead, and W. Wilson: ‘Poesia e simboli nel Caravaggio’, Palatino, vol. 10 (1966), pp. 106–17
  • A. Moir: The Italian Followers of Caravaggio, 2 vols. (Cambridge, MA, 1967)
  • P. Askew: ‘The Angelic Consolation of St Francis of Assisi in Post-Tridentine Italian Painting’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes [prev. pubd as J. Warb. Inst.], vol. 32 (1969), pp. 280–306
  • A. Moir: ‘Did Caravaggio Draw?’, Art Quarterly [Detroit], vol. 32(4) (1969), pp. 354–72
  • H. Röttgen: ‘Caravaggio-Probleme’, Münchner Jahrbuch der bildenden Kunst, vol. 20 (1969), pp. 143–70
  • C. Frommel: ‘Caravaggios Frühwerk und der Kardinal Francesco Maria del Monte’, Storia dell’arte, vols 9–10 (1971), pp. 5–52
  • D. Posner: ‘Caravaggio’s Homo-erotic Early Works’, Art Quarterly [Detroit], vol. 32 (1971), pp. 301–24
  • L. Spezzaferro: ‘La cultura del Cardinale del Monte e il primo tempo del Caravaggio’, Storia dell’arte, vols 9–10 (1971), pp. 57–92
  • S. Vsevolozhskaya and I. Linnik: Caravaggio and His Followers: Paintings in Soviet Museums (Leningrad, 1975)
  • B. Wind: ‘Genre as Season: Dosso, Campi, Caravaggio’, Arte lombarda, vol. 42(3) (1975), pp. 70–73
  • A. Moir: Caravaggio and His Copyists (New York, 1976)
  • F. Zeri: ‘Sull’esecuzione di “nature morte” nella bottega del cavalier d’Arpino, e sulla presenza ivi del giovane Caravaggio’, Diari di lavoro, vol. 2 (Turin, 1976), pp. 92–103
  • J.-P. Cuzin: La Diseuse de bonne aventure de Caravage, Louvre: Les dossiers du département des peintures, 13 (Paris, 1977)
  • V. Pacelli: ‘New Documents Concerning Caravaggio in Naples’, Burlington Magazine, vol. 119 (1977), pp. 819–29
  • B. Nicolson: The International Caravaggesque Movement (Oxford, 1979); rev. and enlarged by L. Vertova as Caravaggism in Europe, 3 vols. (Turin, 1989) [very useful lists of ptgs attrib. to Caravaggio and his followers; numerous pls in rev. edn.]
  • L. Sebregondi Fiorentini: ‘Francesco dell’Antella, Caravaggio, Paladini e altri’, Paragone, vol. 33(383–5) (1982), pp. 107–22
  • F. Trinchieri Camiz and A. Ziino: ‘Caravaggio: Aspetti musicali e committenza’, Stud. Mus., vol. 1 (1983), pp. 67–90
  • R. Spear: ‘Stocktaking in Caravaggio Studies’, Burlington Magazine, vol. 126 (1984), pp. 162–5
  • G. Previtali: ‘Caravaggio e il suo tempo’, Prospettiva, vol. 41 (1985), pp. 68–80
  • K. Christiansen: ‘Caravaggio and “L’esempio davanti del naturale”’, Art Bulletin, vol. 68(3) (1986), pp. 421–45 [a good disc. of Caravaggio’s working procedures and technique]
  • D. Cutajar, ed.: ‘Malta and Caravaggio’, Mid-Med Bank Ltd: Report and Accounts (Malta, 1986; rev. 2/1989)
  • D. Jarman and G. Incandela: Derek Jarman’s ‘Caravaggio’ (London, 1986)
  • F. Trinchieri Camiz: ‘The Castrato Singer: From Informal to Formal Portraiture’, Artibus et historiae, vol. 9(18) (1988), pp. 171–86
  • F. Cappelletti and L. Testa: ‘I quadri di Caravaggio nella collezione Mattei: I nuovi documenti e i riscontri con le fonti’, Storia dell’arte, vol. 69 (1990), pp. 234–44
  • F. Trinchieri Camiz: ‘Music and Painting in Cardinal del Monte’s Household’, Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, vol. 26 (1991), pp. 213–26
  • Come dipingeva Caravaggio: Atti della Giornata di Studio: Firenze, 28 Jan 1992 [incl. K. Christiansen: ‘Thoughts on the Lombard training of Caravaggio’, pp. 7–28]
  • K. Christiansen: ‘Caravaggio’s Second Versions’, Burlington Magazine, vol. 124 (1992), pp. 502–3
  • J. Gash: ‘Painting and Sculpture in Early Modern Malta’, Hospitaller Malta, 1530–1798, ed. V. Mallia-Milanes (Malta, 1993), pp. 509–603
  • S. Macioce: ‘Un cavaliere magistrale’, Art et dossier, vol. 85 (1993), pp. 19–21
  • V. Pacelli: L’ultimo Caravaggio: Dalla Maddalena a mezza figura ai due San Giovanni (1606–1610) (Todi, 1994)
  • S. Corradini and M. Marini: ‘The Earliest Account of Caravaggio in Rome’, Burlington Magazine, vol. 140 (1998), pp. 25–8
  • J. Gash: ‘Caravaggio’s Maltese Inspiration’, Melita historica, vol. 12(3) (1998), pp. 253–66
  • K. Sciberras: ‘“Frater Michael Angelus in tumultu”: The Cause of Caravaggio’s Imprisonment in Malta’, Burlington Magazine, vol. 144 (2002), pp. 229–32
  • A. Zuccaro, ed.: I Caravaggeschi: Percorsi e protagonist, 2 vols. (Milan, 2010) [comprehensive reference work on Caravaggio’s followers]
  • D. M. Stone: ‘Signature Killer: Caravaggio and the Poetics of Blood’, Art Bulletin, vol. 94(4) (2012), pp. 572–93