Learn About Caravaggio in Art History, View His Art and Famous Paintings
"Deposition”, Caravaggio, 1602-4
Michelangelo Mersi known as Caravaggio, 1571-1610, one of Italy's famous artists in art history painted on canvas viewing a live model whenever he was able to get one. He painted ordinary people he knew, in the world he lived in.
He painted one of his famous paintings "The Calling of St. Matthew", in 1599-1602.
The calling of Saint Matthew is a religious theme he rendered using ordinary people. This is rather unusual in the history of religious art.
His style is quite different here from the monumental, heroic, and idealized figures of the Renaissance. Matthew, a tax collector, is sitting at a tavern with his friends and armed guards. Although the painting has a contemporary every day peasant character about it, Caravaggio uses an up-close low level art composition similar to one used by Leonardo da Vinci in the "Last Supper", 1495-98.
The figures in both Leonardo's and Mersi's paintings are placed all along a low level frontal plane. Mersi uses Leonardo's technique of light into dark for dramatic effect.
The highlighted areas and colors are so high in the figure grouping of Matthew and his friends that we really don't notice two people that have come into the room, one of whom is Jesus Christ. Christ's halo is barely seen. If it weren't for the compositional balance technique of highlighted clothing, and the lighted face of the other figure, we probably wouldn't know, at first glance, it is a religious theme. We wouldn’t even recognize one of the figures as being Jesus Christ.
The compositional setting of "The Calling of St. Matthew" isn't what people of the Renaissance were used to. Caravaggio secularizes this religious theme and plays out the drama in an peasant tavern. The characters of his art are modern day low-life people one might see in the street nearby.
Another of his famous paintings is "Conversion of St. Paul", painted in 1600-01.
The theme of the painting is Paul, a Roman Pharisee, being converted to Christianity via a loud voice and bright light from Heaven (Acts 9: 3-9).
Here again, as in the artwork "The Calling of St. Matthew", we don't immediately know an extraordinary religious event is taking place. Paul has fallen down shielding his eyes while his bodyguard is fending off other figures and a frightened horse using a shield and spear.
The religious art theme takes place in an ordinary life setting and Caravaggio is using peasant, rather low-life weather beaten face personalities. The artistic composition of the painting rotates in a balanced oval, circle-like fashion using intense highlighted areas blended into a dark background. This technique is similar to the way Pieter Bruegel painted the highlights in one his famous paintings in art history, "Peasant Wedding", 1565, and the way Gruenwald painted his light and dark highlights, in "The Crucifixion", 1510-15. Other famous artists of the Baroque period are Frans Hals and Rembrant.
To view the entire gallery of Caravaggio paintings, click here.
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