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Pioneers in Digital Research and Attributions


"He was continually skirmishing with the authorities and found himself in prison on several occasions." Michelangelo Merisi, called Caravaggio, was born in the town of Caravaggio near Bergamo, Italy. He was apprenticed to Simone Peterzano in Milan for four years beginning in 1584. He returned to Caravaggio in 1589. In 1592 Caravaggio moved to Rome with his brother Giovanni Battista, who was a priest. He worked with his friend Mario Minniti for a Sicilian painter named Lorenzo until 1594. His unstable nature left him often in conflicts with the law.
    He had a violent temperament and had no respect for authority. He was involved in brawls and duels. He was continually skirmishing with the authorities and found himself in prison on several occasions. His powerful art expressed his violent nature. He worked directly on the canvas without the use of any preliminary drawings. Caravaggio used strong, bright colours, a significant departure from the soft Mannerist hues of the day.
    In 1598 Caravaggio began to paint altarpieces. The most important commissions he received during his stay in Rome were altarpieces, scenes from the life of Saint Matthew. In these works, Caravaggio created a deeply religious yet extremely powerful style. They make a startlingly dramatic appeal to the spectator, and grant a sense of compassion for the sufferings and complexities of humanity. Both these qualities are new in this period of painting. The Contarelli Chapel paintings, all oil on canvas, consist of the altarpiece, St Matthew and the Angel, and the two side paintings, The Calling of Matthew and The Martyrdom of St Matthew. These works mark a revolution in seventeenth century art and the powerful ripples of this revolution found homes throughout the known world. Every master of the day borrowed his power and sense of reality, from Rembrandt in Holland to Ribera in Spain.
    In 1606 Caravaggio killed Ranunccio Tomassoni in a duel over a tennis match and had to flee Rome. By 1607 he was in Naples; where he remained until he again had to flee. Caravaggio was in Malta in 1607-8 where he again found himself in Jail. He escaped and fled to Syracuse, then back to Naples where he was severely wounded in a brawl in 1609. On July 18, he died in Porto Ercole while on his way to Rome. It is believed that he was poisoned through the agent one of his numerous enemies.


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