Caravaggio who was born into poverty to Michelangelo Merisi. In his short life he became a controversial , and forgotten artist. Most of the artists of his day despised him , he painted true images as he saw them. He was arrested and on many occasions would find himself in conflict with the Catholic Church . This was the period of the counter-reformation where scandalous behaviour as practised by Caravaggio was not accepted. Most of his art work was stolen or appropriated , burnt and destroyed.
It was only in the 20th Century that Caravaggio was appreciated as a truly revolutionary artist who was able to depict images as they were. They were not formal pictures and he treated religious persons in a very humane and sympathetic light.
” Ribera , Vermeer , Georges de la tour and Rembrandt could never have existed without him and the art of Delacroix , Courbet and Manet would have been utterly different”..
This is a quote by Giles Lambert referring to Roberto Longhi who was responsible more than anybody else for recognising the genius of Caravaggio.
Lambert goes onto comment about Caravaggio’s greatness. ” he was a painter of genius who worked with extraordinary speed, painting directly onto the canvass without even sketching out the main figures”. .
” Caravaggio is the most mysterious and perhaps the most revolutionary painter in the History of Art. In Rome 34 years after the death of Michelangelo he originated a violent reaction against mannerism of his elders. The primacy of nature and truth was his watchword”..
This comment alone amongst present day Art Historians shows the importance of Caravaggio , he is still frowned upon by a number of critics who in my opinion never understood the revolutionary implications of his Art.
Lambert now comments on the forgotten memory of Caravaggio. ” His name was forgotten and he had to wait 300 years for his reputation to be vindicated. his name began to appear in the late 19th Century , but it was not until the 1920’s that the work of the Art critic Roberto Longhi again brought his name before the public only then did his true stature emerge”..
” With the exception of Michelangelo no other painter exercised so great an influence”.. It will be my argument in this essay to disagree with Giles Lambert . I think and will argue that Caravaggio was the greatest of the Renaissance painters with the exception of Leonardo Da Vinci who will write about later.
In these self portraits Caravaggio has managed to elicit tremendous expression whether of delight or horror , the mark of a truly great artist.
Lambert shows us the hostility and derision that Caravaggio suffered from fellow biographers and artists.” His first biographer Giovanni Bagilone detested him. the few Historians who cite his name -one such was Joachim Winckelmann 1750 gave no indication of his importance”..
” In 1920 Roberto Longhi nailed his colours to the mast ‘People speak of Michelangelo de Caravaggio calling him now a master of shadow , now a master of light”..
” During Caravaggio’s apprenticeship Pope Sixtus V ruled over Rome. The counter-reformation was in full swing. The Duchy of Milan was dominated by Spain”. .
The Art form that Caravaggio found during his early years was Mannerism . ” Throughout the rest of Italy Mannerism prevailed , an academic and rather affected style modelled on the great Roman and Venetian Masters (Copyists).”.
Caravaggio at the time studied at Cremona and Lambert comments on Caravaggio’s early influences.” Caravaggio undoubtedly studied works of that great Master Andrea Mantegna at Vicenza. At Cremona , where Caravaggio studied the frescoes of the famous Sofonisba Anguisciola who had as a young woman known Michelangelo”..
Caravaggio when he moved to Milan associated with Naturalistic painters as Lambert describes.” In Milan a group of native or naturalised painters had opened a sanctuary of simplicity in art. Theirs was a more familiar view of humanity combined with a sympathy for humble Religion”. .
In these images you can see that they represent a realistic art that was completely different from the Mannerist art, feelings and emotions are here coupled with emotion and sorrow. Caravaggio had by this time achieved his ambition and moved to Rome. ” Young artists arriving in Rome in the late 16th century were in danger not only of being bound to servile imitation of the old masters but of throwing of their idealism and technical expertise in favour of a hollow superficial manner(Mannerism).”.
” The life of Caravaggio and his friends was spent in work , drinking , escapades in Brothels and drunken expeditions into the vineyards to visit the property of rich art lovers”..
From being a poor artist to earning some money Lambert retells how this happened.
” Then suddenly his fortunes changed the instrument of this metamorphosis was a rich prelate who enjoyed a Vatican Pension. His name was Pandulfo Pucci”. .
” fascinated by Caravaggio’s talent and facility and attracted by his intransigence of character he offered him board and lodging in return for copying religious paintings”..
As Lambert points out ‘Boy bitten with a Lizard ‘was painted during this period.” today it is widely acknowledged that his ‘ boy bitten by a lizard dates from the beginning of his stay with Cardinal Pucci”. .
As always Caravaggio while out drinking and carousing got himself into scrapes and he was luck enough to be found by one of his friends and taken to Hospital. ” While convalescing at the Hospital Caravaggio is said to have painted several canvasses in gratitude for the intervention of the prior. they were sent to Spain . they made a deep impression on Velasquez and Zurbarri .There is no trace of them today”. 
I conclude with this last comment by Lambert showing how Caravaggio was always returning to the Brothels and the drinking dens of the proletarian part of Rome under the watchful eye of the Papal Police . In the end this would lead to his final demise and death. ” And then he was again out on the streets though he knew the elite world of the art world it was to the Vagabond population of Rome. They provoked the papal police , they hung around with the many Roman Women drank excessively and frightened the Bourgeois”. .
This concludes my first part on Caravaggio , in Parts 2 & 3 I will deal with his great Religious paintings at the height of his fame and ultimately leading to his death.
1 ) CARAVAGGIO GILLES LAMBERT TASCHEN BOOKS PG 15
2) DITTO PG 7
3) DITTO PG 7
4) DITTO PG 8
5) DITTO PG 8
6) DITTO PG 9
7) DITTO PG 15
8) DITTO PG 19
9) DITTO PG 19
10) DITTO PG 20
11) DITTO PG 20
12) DITTO PG 29
13) DITTO PG 29
14) DITTO PG 32
15) DITTO PG 32
16 ) DITTO PG 32
17) DITTO PG 39
18) DITTO PG 42.