Caravaggio and His Religious Paintings

Jesus is Buried - by Caravaggio Philosophy World History Visual Arts

Caravaggio was a working artist during the Baroque Period (1600-1700). He painted what he thought was real—not some idealistic version of reality—which makes his subjects look like actual people.

He also liked to work with shadows, but the background of this painting—called “The Entombment”—is very dark.  That darkness makes the people in this work standout, and the whiteness of Jesus’ body (and his loin cloth) is even more attention-getting.

The oil-on-canvas, which is now located at the Vatican’s Pinacoteca, is 79.92 inches wide and 118.11 inches high.  Caravaggio created it c. 1600-1604. (Click on the image for a full-page view.)

Between 1600 and 1606, Caravaggio was reportedly considered the most-famous painter in Rome. Known for his tempestuous personality, his brilliant art and his rogue behavior, he lived a relatively short life (from 1571 to 1610).

He didn’t just leave behind his famous artwork. He also left behind a string of police records and trial proceedings. Known as a brawler, even at a time when such behavior was pretty common, Caravaggio frequently got himself into trouble with the law.

On the 29th of May, in 1606, he killed another young man—Ranuccio Tomassoni—although history tells us it was probably unintentional. Motives aside, this action was enough to get him outlawed from Rome.

He fled to Naples, where he was protected by the Colonna family. Their patronage led to a series of commissions, but Caravaggio didn’t stay in Naples very long. He went to Malta, was protected by another highly placed individual, did great work and ... then ... did some serious damage, to property, in another brawl.

From Malta, he went to Sicily, then back to Naples. Although he had trouble managing his personal behavior, his artistic skills were amazing. Let’s learn more about him, and his work, from the Caravaggio Foundation:

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (Milan, 28 September 1571 - Porto Ercole, 18 July 1610) was an Italian artist active in Rome, Naples, Malta and Sicily between 1593 and 1610. He is commonly placed in the Baroque school, of which he is considered the first great representative.

Even in his own lifetime Caravaggio was considered enigmatic, fascinating, rebellious and dangerous. He burst upon the Rome art scene in 1600, and thereafter never lacked for commissions or patrons, yet he handled his success atrociously.

An early published notice on him, dating from 1604 and describing his lifestyle some three years previously, tells how "after a fortnight's work he will swagger about for a month or two with a sword at his side and a servant following him, from one ball-court to the next, ever ready to engage in a fight or an argument, so that it is most awkward to get along with him."

In 1606 he killed a young man in a brawl and fled from Rome with a price on his head. In Malta in 1608 he was involved in another brawl, and yet another in Naples in 1609, possibly a deliberate attempt on his life by unidentified enemies.

By the next year, after a relatively brief career, he was dead.

Caravaggio was a prolific artist, despite his run-ins with the law. He created one masterpiece after another, in a style all his own (for the time). He believed in realistic, not idealistic, interpretations—even of religious subjects—and used regular people for his models.

For about four centuries, no one had any reliable information on why Caravaggio had died at the age of 38. Then ... in 2010 ... came a startling bit of news.

A research team is about 85% sure they have found Caravaggio’s bones. After a series of tests, Silvano Vinceti, one of the researchers, made an interesting announcement. Caravaggio most likely had lead poisoning (from his paints):

The lead likely came from his paints – he was known to be extremely messy with them.

Was it the lead poisoning which killed him?

Lead poisoning won't kill you on its own – we believe he had infected wounds and sunstroke too – but it was one of the causes.

Where did the researchers locate Caravaggio’s bones (if they are his bones)? A rediscovered (and faded) piece of parchment led Vinceti to believe that the famous artist was buried in a small Porto Ercole cemetery, known as San Sebastiano.

Researchers couldn’t just exhume bodies at this place, however. Besides ... new development had covered-over the former burial ground. Human remains, from San Sebastiano, had been moved to a municipal cemetery (where nine sets of bones were available for researchers to review).

One of those bone sets, according to Vinceti, held some promise:

Set number five turned out to be from a tall man – Caravaggio was described as such – while tests showed he was between 38 and 40 and died around 1610.

Those data points matched Caravaggio. After doing some additional work, Vinceti—who some refer to as Italy’s leading cold-case historian—ran the studies and reported his findings.

If true, those findings are pretty interesting. They call to mind recent studies on another famous person whose hair reveals he also  had led poisoning: Beethoven!

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Oct 07, 2013

Updated Last Revision: Jan 24, 2020

Media Credits

Image, described above, online courtesy Web Gallery of Art.



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