OF VISUAL ART
Caravaggio's Greatest Paintings
Masterpieces by Caravaggio include:
Calling of Saint Matthew (1599-1600) San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome.
What Exactly is Caravaggism? - Characteristics
In contrast to his leading contemporary Annibale Carracci (1540-1609), Caravaggio rejected conventional idealization, whereby a painting was composed to satisfy more the taste for gracefulness and harmony, than for truth. Instead he employed a bold, indecorous realism, enhanced by a shadowy chiaroscuro and a dramatic use of light and shade (tenebrism). His religious figures were based on male and female models recruited off the streets, whom he painted directly from life without any drawings or preparatory sketches. As a consequence, he succeeded in creating an immediate and powerful effect, whose dramatic quality was accentuated throughout his paintings by his use of boldly contrasting light and dark.
Not all patrons found Caravaggio's realistic treatment of religious themes to their liking, which led to several of his works being rejected. However, because of his populist celebrity, these rejected commissions were usually snapped up by cardinals and wealthy noblemen.
Tenebrism Versus Chiaroscuro
Who Were the Most Important Caravaggisti?
Caravaggio's signature style of tenebrism influenced the development of Flemish Baroque art and the neighbouring Dutch Baroque, as well as Spanish Baroque art. Leading exponents of the Caravaggesque style included the eminent Italians Orazio Gentileschi (1563-1639), his outstanding daughter Artemisia Gentileschi (15931656) - best known for her well-worn masterpiece Judith Beheading Holofernes (1620, Uffizi, Florence) - and the tavern scene painter Bartolomeo Manfredi (1582-1622), along with the Naples-based Spaniard Jusepe Ribera (1591-1652), noted for his intense religious works.
Due to the influence of Quietism (which preferred the closest possible contact between artist and spectator: a key benefit of Caravaggio's realistic figures) Naples became an important source of Counter-Reformation religious paintings, and an important centre of Caravaggism. In addition to Ribera, practitioners included Battistello Caracciolo (1578-1635), Mattia Preti (1613-99), Guido Reni (1575-1642), and many others. For more, see: Caravaggio in Naples as well as Painting in Naples (1600-1700). For early 17th century caravaggesque art in Naples, see: Neapolitan School of Painting (1600-56); for later artists, please see: Neapolitan Baroque (c.1650-1700).
In Holland, where the Utrecht School of Dutch Realism was the main centre of Northern Caravaggism, the chief exponents were the religious and genre painters Gerrit van Honthorst (1590-1656), Hendrik Terbrugghen (1588-1629) and Dirck van Baburen (1595-1624). Caravaggio was also a major influence on Rembrandt (1606-69), notably his use of dramatic chiaroscuro. In Spain, Francisco Zurbaran (1598-1664) was a follower; in France, if Georges de La Tour (1593-1652) provided the most lyrical interpretation of Caravaggism, it was the Le Nain brothers who injected it with genuine Caravaggist realism; while in England Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-97), creator of the celebrated masterpiece An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump (1768, National Gallery, London), was a peerless follower.
Caravaggism first fell out of fashion in Rome, during the late 1620s, although it persisted elsewhere in Italy, notably Sicily. In Netherlandish Utrecht and eastern France it remained influential well into the 1650s.
Contribution to Fine Art
Caravaggism's treatment of light and shadow helped to reinvigorate Italian painting by improving the three-dimensionality of figures. In addition, it allowed artists to control the focus of the painting, thus increasing its dramatic content. Lastly, in the hands of a virtuoso painter like Rembrandt, it enabled greater emotional depth and characterization. All these attributes were seized on by Dutch Realist artists, and by 17th century painters working on religious history painting relating to the inspirational Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation movement, known as the Baroque.
Works by famous Caravaggisti can be seen in some of the best art museums in the world.
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