• 1571 - 1610
  • Artist
  • Italian

Caravaggio "despised" ancient sculptures and Raphael's paintings, wrote a contemporary biographer. "[H]is only reply was to point at a crowd of men, to show that nature had given him enough teachers." As the first artist to refuse to differentiate between the appearance of saints and sinners, he invited both criticism and admiration. Rejecting Mannerism's artificiality and the idealization favored by classical artists, Caravaggio modeled saints and apostles on peasants and showed their dirty feet. Legend claims that he used a drowned prostitute as a model for the dead Virgin.

After training in Milan, Caravaggio arrived in Rome as a penniless teenager. While doing minor work for academic painters, he built a reputation by producing small genre pictures. In 1597 he caused a sensation with his altar paintings for a private chapel, and his sacred figures in realistic, humble settings were rejected. No drawings by Caravaggio exist; he worked slowly and directly on the canvas. His shuttered studio had one lantern's light boring across his compositions, dramatically sharpening and obliterating areas. Gaining power in simplicity, his empty backgrounds concentrated action and isolated figures. After murdering a man over a disputed bet on a tennis game in 1606, Caravaggio remained on the move, continuing to paint until his death. Despite having no pupils and discouraging imitators, he was responsible for the naturalism central to the Baroque style throughout Europe.