Dr. William Feeler
10 September 2014
Caravaggio: the Beauty and Blasphemy of Genius
Caravaggio was born September 29, 1571 to Lucia Aratori and Fermo Merisi, a stonemason, just nine months after their wedding in Caravaggio and he was named Michelangelo after the Archangel Michael. While his father made a good living as a stonemason, they never became wealthy or achieved high status, despite what Caravaggio presented and many speculate “his elevated sense of his own status would lie at the root of many of his future troubles” (Graham-Dixon 9). He lived in Milan until the age of five when his family moved to Caravaggio, then, at the age of six, Michelangelo lost his father and several other members of his extended family to the black plague. He would spend the rest of his childhood with his mother and three siblings being raised and educated there in Caravaggio. At the age of thirteen he signed a contract to be the apprentice to the painter Simone Peterzano’s, leaving his mother’s home to pursue his dream of being a painter. The most obvious thing that Michelangelo learned during the apprenticeship with Peterzano was what was expected of artists at that time, the rules that had been established by the Council of Trent, that: all the human figures, and above all the saints, should be executed with the greatest honesty and gravity, and there should not appear torsos, nor other limbs or parts of the body, and every action, gesture, clothes, attitude and drapery of the saints should be most honest, modest and full of divine gravity & majesty (Graham-Dixon 55). While Michelangelo exhibited no techniques that mimicked those of Peterzano, he did learn skills that all Renaissance artists learned: how to draw; how to create his colors; and how to paint a fresco. His first paintings were mediocre and crude, evidence that his lessons at the hands of Peterzano were less than instructive. This is possibly why Michelangelo evolved into Caravaggio, “a painter of extraordinary innate talent, a unique virtuoso when it came to conjuring the illusion of three-dimensional reality within the two-dimensions of painting” (Graham-Dixon 55). Caravaggio bucked the standards of the times by refusing to draw on his paintings and, instead, choosing to stage “fragments of scenes, that he knitted together, collage-like, on his canvas, using shadows to mask the joins” (Graham-Dixon 185). Caravaggio took everything that was commonly considered beautiful in Renaissance art and he twisted it into something new and exciting. “He celebrated everything from the smooth bodies of adolescent boys to the knotted muscles of brawny workmen, from the rounded cheeks of pretty young women to the wrinkles of shrewd old crones, equally engaged, it seems, by come-hither smiles and features distorted by pain” (Wilkin 2). While it seems so unbelievable that he could have ever been considered anything but genius, his paintings were often considered offensive and rejected by the clientele that commissioned them, something that hurt and angered Caravaggio. Prior to his death in 1610, Caravaggio became “quick to take offence and easily provoked… and, in the course of a fight with an old rival, mortally wounded him. He fled Rome directly and lived the remaining four years of his life in anxious flight. All the while he painted” (Walsh 10). One of the most notable efforts by Caravaggio was his determination to place himself into his art, something seen repeatedly through his pieces, as he painted his face onto characters throughout his body of work: Goliath in each of his David and Goliath pieces and the executioner of Saint John the Baptist, for example. It was clearly important to Caravaggio to insert himself into his art, to express his emotions by the interjecting him image into horrific scenes of brutality painted with the grace and beauty only Caravaggio could present. Through the pieces that he created, Caravaggio expresses his beliefs in not only...
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Graham-Dixon, Andrew. Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane. New York: Norton, 2010.
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