In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Caravaggio

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Contemporary Documents and Records
  • Contemporary Biographies
  • Contemporary Art Writing
  • Modern Biographies
  • Bibliographical Studies
  • Anthologies
  • Exhibition Catalogues—Caravaggio and Caravaggisti
  • Patrons
  • Homosexuality
  • Relationship with the Past
  • Religion
  • Violence
  • Narrative
  • Style
  • Naturalism
  • Modernity
  • Self-Portraits
  • Contarelli Chapel
  • Cerasi Chapel
  • The Entombment
  • Madonna di Loreto
  • Death of the Virgin
  • Madonna dei Palafrenieri
  • Rome—Private Works
  • Naples, Sicily, and Malta

Renaissance and Reformation Caravaggio
Anne H. Muraoka
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 October 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0397


Michelangelo Merisi (b. 1571–d. 1610) was an Italian painter noted for formulating a distinctive style that combined direct observation, a dramatic application of light and shadow, and a plebeian approach to figures, which had a formative influence on Baroque style both south and north of the Alps. He was the firstborn son of Fermo Merisi, a master mason, and Lucia Aratori. Although baptized (and thus born) in Milan, Michelangelo Merisi was generally known as Caravaggio, the town from which his family originated. By 1592, Caravaggio had lost both his parents, and had supposedly completed a four-year apprenticeship with Simone Peterzano in Milan. Caravaggio is first documented in Rome in 1597, but scholars largely agree that the young artist arrived in Rome in the fall of 1592, eager to make a name for himself as an artist. Although the chronology and accounts of Caravaggio’s early years in Rome provided by his biographers are contradictory, it seems that the artist began his career producing secular works with the intention to sell them on the market to potential buyers, rather than by commission. He soon garnered the patronage, lodging, and protection of key Roman collectors and cardinal-patrons, most important among them, Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte. It was during Caravaggio’s years in the Del Monte household (1595–1602) that the artist received his first public commission to decorate the Contarelli Chapel in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi (1599–1602). It was in his public debut that Caravaggio developed his signature style. His use of tenebrism (dramatic contrasts of light and shadow), in particular, distanced his work from the prevailing mannerist and classical style exhibited by Caravaggio’s near contemporaries, the Cavaliere d’Arpino and Annibale Carracci. Although Caravaggio’s biographers suggest that his new, revolutionary style did not please his patrons and the learned public, purportedly resulting in rejected works, Caravaggio completed key public commissions, including the laterals in the Cerasi Chapel, and numerous altarpieces. Even in the cases of supposed rejected altarpieces, these works were appropriated by important Roman patrons, including the Marchese Vincenzo Giustiniani. The murder of Ranuccio Tommasoni in 1606, forced the artist into exile in southern Italy, particularly Naples, Sicily, and Malta. Significantly, Caravaggio continued to receive commissions and produced a significant body of work even during his exile until his death in Porto Ercole in 1610, seemingly en route to Rome where a pardon from Pope Paul V was anticipated.

General Overviews

The number of general overviews on the life and career of Caravaggio is immense. One of the earliest notable 20th-century monographs, Friedlaender 1955, includes a catalogue raisonné and translations of select early biographies and documents. Hibbard 1985 and Puglisi 1998 similarly include useful appendices. Leading up to and following the four hundredth anniversary marking Caravaggio’s death in 1610, the number of general overviews increased, as did the variety of formats. Vodret 2010 provides a straightforward monograph, while Ebert-Schifferer incorporates new research, a chronology, and a catalogue of the artist’s works. Among those overviews that include authoritative and richly illustrated catalogue raisonnés are Schütze 2009 and Spike and Spike 2010. Fried 2010 and Zuccari 2011 are more theoretical and thematic in content.

  • Ebert-Schifferer, Sybille. Caravaggio: The Artist and His Work. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2012.

    Readable and insightful general overview of Caravaggio placing his life and work within the context of available documents, a re-evaluation of sources, and the religious and cultural environment in which he worked. Includes a useful chronology of the artist’s life and catalogue of the artist’s works. Originally published in German as Caravaggio: Sehen, Staunen, Glauben: Der Maler und sein Werk (Munich: Beck, 2009).

  • Fried, Michael. The Moment of Caravaggio. The A.W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts. Bollingen series 35, 51. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010.

    Based on author’s A.W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts delivered at the National Gallery of Art, 2002, this book centers theoretical readings of the relationship between the artist and his self-portraits, the function of violence and realism in his works, among other topics. Delves into the broader implications of Caravaggio’s style on the emergence of the gallery picture.

  • Friedlaender, Walter. Caravaggio Studies. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1955.

    Conceived as a series of studies on the artist rather than a biography or chronological overview of his work. Particular emphasis is given to Caravaggio’s character, style, and the role of religion. Includes a catalogue raisonné, selection of reprints of contemporary biographies on Caravaggio, and documents regarding his life and work, all with parallel English translations.

  • Hibbard, Howard. Caravaggio. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1985.

    Solid research, thoroughness, and broad scope make Hibbard’s book still a standard in Caravaggio literature. Includes useful appendices on attributions, and reprints of contemporary biographies on Caravaggio, with parallel English translations. Originally published 1983.

  • Puglisi, Catherine R. Caravaggio. London: Phaidon, 1998.

    Readable and well-researched monograph. Includes brief catalogue raisonné with addition of copies, excerpts of contemporary comments, biographies, and notices in translation.

  • Schütze, Sebastian. Caravaggio: The Complete Works. Cologne, Germany: Taschen, 2009.

    Comprehensive and richly illustrated monograph of the artist, which charts his life from his beginnings in Lombardy, to his critical success in Rome, and to his final years in Naples, Malta, and Sicily. Includes a full catalogue raisonné. Originally published in German as Das vollständige Werk (Cologne, Germany: Taschen, 2009).

  • Spike, John T., with Michèle K. Spike. Caravaggio. New York: Abbeville, 2010.

    Informed monograph that explores Caravaggio’s life and works within the broad context of 17th-century culture. Originally published in 2001, this revised and updated edition includes color reproductions of all of Caravaggio’s extant works and a complete, searchable critical catalogue on CD-ROM.

  • Vodret, Rossella. Caravaggio: The Complete Works. Milan: Silvana, 2010.

    Readable monograph that considers the artist’s life and works.

  • Zuccari, Alessandro. Caravaggio controluce: Ideali e capolavori. Milan: Skira, 2011.

    Series of essays that examines themes associated with the artist’s motivations behind the formulation of some of his private and public works. Includes consideration of the role and influence of Oratorian humanism on Caravaggio, the artist’s sensitivity to contemporary concerns for the recovery of Christian origins and historical truth, and the poor.

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