Michelangelo Merisi was born in Milan, year 1571. He was born on the 29th of September, the feast day of his “name saint”, the Archangel, Michael, and was also christened the following day at the parish church of S. Stefano in Brolo, Milan. His father, Fermo Merisi, was an architect and/or “magister” for the Marchese of Caravaggio, Francesco Sforza, as his mother, Lucia, was from the same district.
To escape the plague in Milan, the family moved to Caravaggio in 1576. Thus, Caravaggio is the name of the artist’s home town in Lombardy, northern Italy. His father died in 1577 and his mother in 1590. In 1584, he was apprenticed, for four years to Lombard painter, Simone Peterzano. Simone Peterzano was a late mannerist devoted to early mannerism. Upon the apprenticeship ending, he remained in the area where he became familiar with works of Titian, Tintoretto, Lotto, Savoldo, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael and other High Renaissance masters, which were popular in the area. Within such time, Caravaggio could have visited Venice, given Peterzano’s admiration for Titian and Caravaggio’s display, in his own paintings, of a knowledge of works in the city.
Peterzano’s influence on Michelangelo would not be underestimated. He combined an interest of light and color, inspired by Titian, with more characteristical Lombard qualities: a precise handling of paint, which was more “finished” than Venetians, retaining traces of textured brushwork, a likeness for the sometimesugly detail of nature and an interest in still-life detail and portraiture despite the fact that he was predominantly a painter of religious subjects. 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.
By 1592 at the age of 21 he moved to Rome, Italy’s artistic center and a magnet for artist’s keen to study its classical buildings and famous works of art. He had very little and did not have much money when he arrival to the city. A few months after he began working for Giuseppe Cesari where he worked painting flowers and fruit in his factory. He painted several pieces during this period, but his work ended with Cesari, after suffering from a serious illness while working on a painting. In these works, he depicted signs of realism, which he would focus on during his career. In recently discovered documents, Caravaggio was present, though probably not working, in the workshop of the Sicilian painter, Lorenzo Carli, in Rome on March 1596. Since he may have been Caravaggio’s first artist employer in the city, it also raises the possibility and question that he may have arrived there later than previously thought. Of all Caravaggio’s suspected early Roman residences, the first may have been with Monsignor Pandolfo Pucci of Recanati, a beneficed priest of St Peter’s. Pucci was head of the household of Camilla Peretti, the sister of Pope Sixtus V. Peretti was close with the Marchesi di Caravaggio. But Michelangelo, forced to do unpleasant household chores and eat a diet of salad, left a few months after, dubbing his benefactor ‘Monsignor Insalata’ meaning Monsignor Salad.
In 1595, A Cardinal, Francesco del Monte, recognized Michelangelo’s talents and took Caravaggio into his household. Through his circle of acquaintances, Caravaggio received his first public commissions which were so compelling and so innovative that he supposedly became a celebrity almost overnight. Thuis, Caravaggio was determined to name for himself. During this period that he made a good number of friendships with those including: Prospero Orsi, Onorhio Longhi, and Mario Minniti, all who worked in the art world. These men not only introduced Caravaggio to others in the art world, but also helped him put his work out in front of others, to gain more notoriety in this field. Cardinal del Monte was an 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, theatre, alchemy, and painting. His brother, Guidubaldo, was the foremost mathematician of the age, and Galileo was one of their friends.
About 1596 – 1957 Caravaggio joined the del Monte household as a paid retainer and was still there on November 19,1600, although he may have left soon after. The Cardinal was known to have owned ten paintings by him. Caravaggio reconstructed the reality of a corner of a room, with all its makings of light and shadow. Nothing that would enhance the illusion of reality was ignored, from keen details to the strategic foreground placing of objects. His insistence on recording and exaggerating 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.
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.
Dramatic, is the word that can be used to describe Michelangelo’s life. As you pay attention to the Artist’s unfolding story, there are many accursed words used to describe his world affairs from a young age. From punk to murderer it is said his art was just as dramatic as his life. Caravaggio liked to play just as hard as he worked. He would walk around with his sword at his side (which was illegal) and with a servant following him, from one place to the next, always ready to engage in a fight or argument.
Caravaggio was arrested a multitude of times for lots of things including: slashing the cloak of an adversary, throwing a plate of artichokes at a waiter, scarring a guard, and abusing the police. He weighed on everyone. When his Roman landlady seized his effects for nonpayment of rent in 1605, Michelangelo came and threw so many stones at the shutters of the windows that he broke them all down one by one on a side. However, he was too precious for his patrons to part with. He dressed meanly, lodged in taverns, and once, not having money to pay his due, he painted a sign for the tavern, which afterwards sold for a large sum.’
Most significant among Caravaggio’s exploits, is the incident which looms largest in the historical mind forever labeling him a “Murderer”, is his 1606 murder of another gentleman, Ranuccio Tomassoni. Said to be a violent resolution of a argument surrounding a tennis match, more recent Studies of the murder have positioned a rivalry between the two men over a shared courtesan.
In either case, it was a nasty business that sent Caravaggio into exile or at least caused him to flee. Documents held in the Vatican and Rome State Archives show that Tomassoni, who was a pimp, died when Caravaggio attempted to cut off his testicles. The research shows that Caravaggio didn’t just lash out after a game of tennis but that he was avenging his honor in a way that was somehow a part of the culture of the Rome in that time period. One of the fascinating things is the discovery that wounds in Roman street fights, meant things. Things being:
If a man insulted another man’s reputation, he might have his face cut. If a man insulted a man’s woman, he would get his penis cut off.
Documents showed that Tomassoni bled to death through the femoral artery in his groin. Caravaggio met Fillide Melandroni when he was commissioned to paint her for an Italian nobleman. Tomassoni is believed to have been her pimp. This also being the prostitute/ woman the men had a scuffle over.
He had escaped from Papal Rome after murdering Ranuccio Tomassoni and surprisingly deciding to go South rather than North. In doing so, he also shaped the character of South Italian early Seicento painting. Afterwards, he sought to try his fortune with the Knights of Malta. Caravaggio travelled to Malta, in order to become a Knight of St John, and stayed there from July 12, 1607 to early October 1608. He was elected a Knight of Obedience of the Order of St John on 14 July 1608.The huge horizontal “Beheading of St John the Baptist” was probably his obligatory gift of passage into the Order which he executed for the oratory of the conventual church, now co-cathedral, in Valletta in 1608.
However, after a brawl involving seven Knights in the house of Fra Prospero Coppini on August 18 in 1608, one of their number, Fra Giovanni Rodomonte Roero, was seriously injured and Caravaggio was imprisoned. From this 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. It was likely that certain Knights involved pursued him in search of revenge. He travelled around Sicily and then returned to Naples where he was involved in yet another bar brawl which left him disfigured.
However, friends with high status in Rome had successfully petitioned the Pope for a pardon meaning Caravaggio could return. He had his belongings loaded onto a ship already but, for some reason, soon after he was then arrested and had to buy (probably bribe) his way out of jail. By the time he was released, the ship and all his possessions had sailed away without him. As he made his way along the coast he fell ill, perhaps with malaria, and a few days later, alone and feverish, he died. It is suspected though, that he too was murdered.
- ‘Caravaggio and His Paintings.’ Caravaggio: 100 Famous Paintings Analysis and Biography. Accessed December 17, 2018. http://www.caravaggio.org/.
- Gallery, London The National. ‘Michelangelo Merisi Da Caravaggio.’ The National Gallery. Accessed December 17, 2018. https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/artists/michelangelo-merisi-da-caravaggio.
- Correspondent, Catherine Milner Arts. ”Red-blooded Caravaggio Killed Love Rival in Bungled Castration Attempt’.’ The Telegraph. June 02, 2002. Accessed December 17, 2018. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/italy/1396127/Red-blooded-Caravaggio-killed-love-rival-in-bungled-castration-attempt.html.
- Pomella, Andrea. Caravaggio. ATS Italia Editrice, 2004.
- Sciberras, Keith. ‘CARAVAGGIO.’ 41-44. https://www.um.edu.mt/library/oar/bitstream/handle/123456789/7210/41-44.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.
- Gash, John M. ‘Caravaggio, Michelangelo Merisi Da [Merisi, Michelangelo ].’ 2003. http://libproxy.fitsuny.edu:2150/groveart/view/10.1093/gao/9781884446054.001.0001/oao-9781884446054-e-7000013950?rskey=HEEZ8o&result=1.