"... and who has been for a lot of time far from God, from His adoration, and from any good thought..." - the light and dark genius of Caravaggio

18 July 1610: The painter Michelangelo Merisi, better known as Caravaggio, died at the age of 38 in Porto Ecole, allegedly of a fever.

“In this painting there are but vulgarity, sacrilege, impiousness and disgust...One would say it is a work made by a painter that can paint well, but of a dark spirit, and who has been for a lot of time far from God, from His adoration, and from any good thought..." (A secretary of Cardinal Scipione Borghese after the removal of Caravaggio’s “Madonna dei palafrenieri” from the church of Sant'Anna dei Palafrenieri after two days)

Caravaggio: "Judith Beheading Holofernes" 1598–1599

Living life to the fullest, Caravaggio, in hindsight , has a reputation of being the archetype of a wicked artist, brawling and killing and gambling and whoring and having affairs with both sexes from Rome to Naples to Malta and Sicily and back – and, en passant, creating masterpieces of art. Admittedly, his exploits were considered a bit strong even by his contemporaries in the days of the late Renaissance, but were actually not very much out of the ordinary for young men of his class.

That he used well known prostitutes as models for his paintings of Christian saints was rated as being over the top and 
raised, more often than not, the eyebrow of his Church patrons. Just as depicting the lively expressions and scenes after the manner he had actually seen and experienced in his daily life of coeval comme il faut excesses, combining them with especially with the then recently rediscovered Hellenistic sculptures and patterns of the Great Ones of the Italian Renaissance. His works were uncommonly well-painted for his almost hastily technique of brushing with oil directly on canvas without making elaborate pre-studies like his fellow artists, sometimes by getting the silhouettes of his models outlined with the help of a pinhole camera.

One of Caravaggio’s last works, "The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula" (1610), depicting the scene when the Saint refused the hand of the King of the Huns and was transfixed with an arrow for her pains. Caravaggio painted himself behind St Ursula (the bearded, raised face)

But the truly revolutionary act of his art is his dramatic use of light and dark that soon became widely known throughout Europe and had a formative influence in ending the approach of late Renaissance art, Mannerism, and the birth of Baroque. In combination with the Lombard school of art and German naturalism in painting, he laid the groundwork for the oeuvre of Rembrandt, Rubens and Velázquez – to name but a few. Nonetheless his presently known 80 paintings stand out as an artistic singularity of a genius who transcended daily life, dramatic perception and a grim sense of humour into timeless paintings that have very few equals.

His works of art can be admired online on:


and more about his life and times on: