Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio
- LAST REVIEWED: 15 January 2020
- LAST MODIFIED: 30 January 2014
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0017
- LAST REVIEWED: 15 January 2020
- LAST MODIFIED: 30 January 2014
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0017
Michelangelo Merisi (b. 1571–d. 1610), generally known from his birthplace in Lombardy as Caravaggio, was one of the founders of the baroque style. He continues to fascinate both for the revolutionary nature of his art and the lurid details of his life. After an apparently unfinished apprenticeship in Milan, Caravaggio moved to Rome. Initially, he struggled to establish a career, falling out with one of the city’s most successful painters, the Cavaliere d’Arpino, but he was then adopted by Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte. Under his patronage, Caravaggio developed a radical new style rooted in naturalistic observation and the use of tenebrism (strong contrasts of light and shade), which rejected the prevailing values of mannerist artists, such as the Cavaliere. At first he painted genre works, particularly ambiguous works about young boys accompanied by still-life elements. Primarily a painter of religious works, his first public works were highly acclaimed, such as the decoration of the Contarelli Chapel in San Luigi dei Francesi (1599–1602) and of the Cerasi Chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo (1600–1602). However, some paintings were immediately controversial, with several altarpieces being rejected on grounds of decorum, such as the Death of the Virgin (1601–1606) and the Madonna dei Palafrenieri (1605–1606). These works were, however, widely sought after by Italian collectors and imitated by Italian, Spanish, and northern European Caravaggisti (stylistic followers of Caravaggio). His personal life was equally controversial: he had a propensity to violence, which culminated with his exile from Rome for the murder of Ranuccio Tomassoni over a disputed tennis match on 28 May 1606, and there has been much debate about his sexuality. Indeed, we learn more about his life from the Roman police records than from any other source. Subsequently, he traveled to Naples, Sicily, and Malta, where his work was highly influential for local artists, before dying at Porto Ercole on his attempted return to Rome in the hope of a papal pardon. The early sources were keen to equate his dramatic work with his character, often to his detraction. Until the early 20th century, his work was largely condemned as vulgar and lacking in idealism. Since then, his popularity has grown exponentially, thanks, initially, to pioneering studies in the 1920s and 1950s. Roberto Longhi also organized the first major exhibition of Caravaggio’s art in 1951. Subsequent fascination with his life and work has led to an immense bibliography, especially around the quatercentenary of his death in 2010 (including some highly speculative publications), as well as numerous exhibitions, many of which have sought to introduce new works into the Caravaggio corpus. Modern Caravaggio studies have offered an often bewildering and contradictory range of approaches to the artist and his work, including iconographic analysis, explorations of ambiguity, studies of social contexts, and psychoanalysis. Questions of attribution are still debated, with new “Caravaggios” regularly coming on the art market or appearing in exhibitions. His place in the complex movement known as the Counter-Reformation has also been much debated. Despite the huge amount of scholarship devoted to Caravaggio, many aspects of his life and the interpretation of his art remain problematic and controversial. The dramatic nature of his life has also inspired novels and films.
There are innumerable general studies of Caravaggio’s life and work that are more or less reliable. The most useful overviews are contained in a number of monographs from the mid-1950s on, starting with the series of essays in Friedlaender 1974. Since then, particularly useful surveys and biographies include Ebert-Schifferer 2012, Hibbard 1983, Langdon 1998, Puglisi 1998, Schütze 2009, Cappelletti 2010, and Spike and Spike 2010, while authoritative catalogues raisonnés include Cinotti and Dall’Acqua 1983, Marini 2005, and Spike and Spike 2010.
Cappelletti, Francesca. Caravaggio: Un ritratto somigliante. Milan: Electa, 2010.
Biography based on a close reading of contemporary documents. Superb color details.
Cinotti, Mia, and Gian Alberto Dall’Acqua. Michelangelo Merisi detto il Caravaggio, tutte le opere. Bergamo, Italy: Poligrafiche Bolis, 1983.
Complete and lengthy catalogue. Fully illustrated in color.
Ebert-Schifferer, Sybille. Caravaggio: The Artist and His Work. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2012.
General study based on a close reading of contemporary documents, putting Caravaggio in context, and excluding some of the less plausible attributions of works to him. Originally published as Caravaggio, sehen, staunen, glauben: Der Maler und sein Werk (Munich: C. H. Beck, 2009).
Friedlaender, Walter. Caravaggio Studies. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1974.
A collection of early essays attempting to define Caravaggio’s work and place in a Counter-Reformation context. Also includes a catalogue raisonné and translations of the major Seicento biographies and documents then known. Though dated, and illustrated entirely in black and white, it is still useful for students. Originally published in 1955.
Hibbard, Howard. Caravaggio. New York: Harper & Row, 1983.
Accessible monograph that seeks to set Caravaggio in his historical context and offers a psychological analysis of the artist’s character. Limited color illustrations. Also published in London by Thames and Hudson, 1983.
Langdon, Helen. Caravaggio: A Life. London: Chatto & Windus, 1998.
Detailed and accessible critical biography of Caravaggio that eloquently evokes Caravaggio’s world.
Marini, Maurizio. Caravaggio “pictor praestantissimus”: L’iter artistico completo di uno dei massimi rivoluzionari dell’arte di tutti i tempi. 4th ed. Rome: Newton Compton Editori, 2005.
Major account of Caravaggio’s career, with full catalogue raisonné. Extensively illustrated. Especially useful for Caravaggio’s technique, with many reproductions of X-rays. Revised edition, first published in 1987.
Puglisi, Catherine R. Caravaggio. London: Phaidon, 1998.
Full analysis of Caravaggio’s work in relation to recent discoveries and brief catalogue raisonné. Comprehensively illustrated in color.
Schütze, Sebastian. Caravaggio: The Complete Works. Cologne: Taschen, 2009.
The most reliable and complete monograph on Caravaggio to date, with full catalogue raisonné. Very fully illustrated in color with numerous details and comparative illustrations. Extensive bibliography. Translation from German edition: Caravaggio: Das vollständige Werk (Cologne: Taschen, 2009).
Spike, John T., with Michèle K. Spike. Caravaggio. New York: Abbeville, 2010.
Important monograph, with full catalogue on CD-ROM in the revised edition, including information on provenance and full bibliography. First published in 2001.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
- Activist and Socially Engaged Art
- Adornment, Dress, and African Arts of the Body
- Ancient Egyptian Art
- Ancient Pueblo (Anasazi) Art
- Angkor and Environs
- Art and Archaeology of the Bronze Age in China
- Art and Architecture in the Medieval Kingdom of Hungary
- Art and Propaganda
- Art of Medieval Iberia
- Art of the Crusader Period in the Levant
- Art of the Dogon
- Art of the Mamluks
- Art of the Plains Peoples
- Artemisia Gentileschi
- Arts of Senegambia
- Arts of the Pacific Islands
- Assyrian Art and Architecture
- Australian Aboriginal Art
- Aztec Empire, Art of the
- Babylonian Art and Architecture
- Bamana Arts and Mande Traditions
- Barbizon Painting
- Bartolomeo Ammannati
- Bernini, Gian Lorenzo
- Bohemia and Moravia, Renaissance and Rudolphine Art of
- Borromini, Francesco
- Brazilian Art and Architecture, Post-independence
- Burkina Art and Performance
- Byzantine Art and Architecture
- Caravaggio, Michelangelo Merisi da
- Carracci, Annibale
- Chaco Canyon and Other Early Art in the North American Sou...
- Chicana/o Art
- Chimú Art and Architecture
- Colonial Art of New Granada (Colombia)
- Conceptual Art and Conceptualism
- Contemporary Art
- Courbet, Gustave
- Czech Modern and Contemporary Art
- Daumier, Honoré
- David, Jacques-Louis
- Delacroix, Eugène
- Design, Garden and Landscape
- Destruction in Art
- Dürer, Albrecht
- Early Christian Art
- Early Medieval Architecture in Western Europe
- Eighteenth-Century Europe
- Ephemeral Art and Performance in Africa
- Ethiopia, Art History of
- European Art, Historiography of
- European Medieval Art, Otherness in
- Eyck, Jan van
- Festivals in West Africa
- French Impressionism
- Gender and Art in the Middle Ages
- Gender and Art in the Renaissance
- Gender and Art in the 17th Century
- Giotto di Bondone
- Gothic Architecture
- Gothic Art in Italy
- Goya y Lucientes, Francisco José
- Great Zimbabwe and its Legacy
- Greek Art and Architecture
- Greenberg, Clement
- Géricault, Théodore
- Iconography in the Western World
- Installation Art
- Islamic Art and Architecture in North Africa and the Iberi...
- Japanese Architecture
- Japanese Buddhist Sculpture
- Japanese Ceramics
- Japanese Literati Painting and Calligraphy
- Jewish Art, Ancient
- Jewish Art, Medieval to Early Modern
- Jewish Art, Modern and Contemporary
- Jones, Inigo
- Kahlo, Frida
- Katsushika Hokusai
- Lastman, Pieter
- Leonardo da Vinci
- Luca della Robbia (or the Della Robbia Family)
- Luisa Roldán
- Markets and Auctions, Art
- Marxism and Art
- Maya Art
- Medieval Art and Liturgy (recent approaches)
- Medieval Art and the Cult of Saints
- Medieval Art in Scandinavia, 400-800
- Medieval Textiles
- Meiji Painting
- Merovingian Period Art
- Moche Art
- Modern Sculpture
- Monet, Claude
- Māori Art and Architecture
- Museums in Australia
- Museums of Art in the West
- Nasca Art
- Native North American Art, Pre-Contact
- Nazi Looting of Art
- New Media Art
- New Spain, Art and Architecture
- Olmec Art
- Pacific Art, Contemporary
- Palladio, Andrea
- Parthenon, The
- Performance Art
- Perspective from the Renaissance to Post-Modernism, Histor...
- Peter Paul Rubens
- Philip II and El Escorial
- Photography, History of
- Pollock, Jackson
- Polychrome Sculpture in Early Modern Spain
- Postmodern Architecture
- Pre-Hispanic Art of Columbia
- Psychoanalysis, Art and
- Qing Dynasty Painting
- Rembrandt van Rijn
- Renaissance and Renascences
- Renaissance Art and Architecture in Spain
- Rivera, Diego
- Rodin, Auguste
- Roman Art
- Science and Conteporary Art
- Sculpture: Method, Practice, Theory
- South Asia and Allied Textile Traditions, Wall Painting of
- South Asia, Modern and Contemporary Art of
- South Asia, Photography in
- South Asian Architecture and Sculpture, 13th to 18th Centu...
- South Asian Art, Historiography of
- The Art of Medieval Sicily and Southern Italy through the ...
- The Art of Southern Italy and Sicily under Angevin and Cat...
- Theory in Europe to 1800, Art
- Timurid Art and Architecture
- Turner, Joseph Mallord William
- van Gogh, Vincent
- Viking Art
- Warburg, Aby
- Warhol, Andy
- Wari (Huari) Art and Architecture
- Wittelsbach Patronage from the late Middle Ages to the Thi...
- Women, Art, and Art History: Gender and Feminist Analyses
- Yuan Dynasty Art