Caravaggio's impact felt far away Painter: The Italian's influence extended beyond his native land, affecting art even in distant Holland.

January 11, 1998|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC

Michelangelo Merisi (1573- 1610), called Caravaggio after his birthplace in northern Italy, had a mature career that lasted less than 15 years. But what he created in that brief period had a tremendous impact on many subsequent artists.

After apprenticing with a minor pupil of Titian in Bergamo (near Venice), Caravaggio was in Rome by the early 1590s. After an early period of painting still lifes and genre scenes, he began to paint altarpieces for Roman churches and entered the major phase of his career.

With works such as "The Calling of St. Matthew" (about 1600), "The Conversion of St. Paul" (1601), "The Entombment of Christ" (1602) and "The Death of the Virgin" (1602-1604), he gave the world a strikingly new and original art.

It is characterized by high drama, sharp lighting contrasts and direct emotional appeal. He also used contemporary settings and costumes and models from the lower classes. His compositions often seem to jut out into the viewer's space and demand a participatory response.

These qualities produced an intense naturalism contrasting with both high Renaissance idealism and mannerist aestheticism. It did not sit well with some in the church. For his "Death of the Virgin," which shows her as a lifeless and bloated body, he is supposed to have used a dead prostitute as a model; and the painting was rejected by the church that had commissioned it.

But Caravaggio's work was appreciated by connoisseurs of his time, including cardinals and members of the aristocracy.

Caravaggio's temper was as violent as his art was dramatic, and he repeatedly got in trouble with the law. In 1606 he killed a man in a fight over a game of tennis, and fled Rome for Naples. In succeeding years he worked there and in Malta and Sicily, and his art took on a more ruminative quality. He was wounded in another brawl in 1609, and died from a fever the next year.

His far-reaching influence can be seen in the work of varied artists, from the drama of Peter Paul Rubens to the light and the deep emotional appeal of Rembrandt to the gravity of Jan Vermeer to the realism of Jose de Ribera.

Others affected by his work included Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi in Italy, Francisco de Zurbaran in Spain, and of course the Utrecht artists, through whom his influence is thought to have been passed both to other Dutch artists and to Georges de La Tour in France.

Pub Date: 1/11/98

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