Who was Caravaggio?
Caravaggio became the greatest painter of religious works of the early 17th century. His dramatic but naturalistic style of painting emphasised the common humanity of his subjects, the apostles and martyrs of the Christian faith. He is credited with introducing two techniques aimed at enhancing reality: the use of live models, and their illumination (and that of his painting) with light directed from a high point in the composition. These techniques, and his dramatic realism, were a major influence on the Baroque artists who followed in his footsteps. This list includes Rembrandt, Rubens and Velazquez.
Odyssey’s small group tour, Following Caravaggio, follows in the footsteps of this brilliant but troubled painter. Beginning in his birthplace, Milan, we follow him to Rome, Malta, Sicily and on to Naples, exploring his artistic legacy. But if you are interested in learning more about this intriguing historical figure, the following reading list features nine books and a documentary film on Caravaggio. You might like to familiarise yourself with current understandings of the artist’s life and legacy.
by Andrew Graham-Dixon
In the tradition of John Richardson’s Picasso, a commanding new biography of the Italian master’s tumultuous life and mysterious death.
For four hundred years Caravaggio’s (1571-1610) staggering artistic achievements have thrilled viewers, yet his volatile personal trajectory―the murder of Ranuccio Tomasini, the doubt surrounding Caravaggio’s sexuality, the chain of events that began with his imprisonment on Malta and ended with his premature death―has long confounded historians. In a bravura performance, Andrew Graham-Dixon delves into the original Italian sources, presenting fresh details about Caravaggio’s life, his many crimes and public brawls, and the most convincing account yet published of the painter’s tragic death at the age of thirty-eight. With illuminating readings of Caravaggio’s infamous religious paintings, which often depict prostitutes and poor people, Graham-Dixon immerses readers in the world of Italy at the height of the Counter-Reformation and creates a masterful profile of the mercurial painter’s life and work. This New York Times and Washington Post Notable Book of the Year features full-colour reproductions of the artist’s best paintings.
Says Hilary Spurling for the New York Times Book Review: ‘This book resees its subject with rare clarity and power as a painter for the 21st century’.
2. Caravaggio: The Complete Works (2017)
by Sebastian Schütze
Caravaggio, or more accurately Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, was always a name to be reckoned with. The notorious bad boy of Italian painting, the artist was at once celebrated and controversial: violent in temper, precise in technique, a creative master, and a man on the run. Today, he is considered one of the greatest influences in all art history.
This Bibliotheca Universalis edition offers a neat yet comprehensive Caravaggio catalogue raisonné. Each of his paintings is reproduced from recent top-quality photography, allowing for a vivid encounter with the artist’s ingenious repertoire of looks and gestures, as well as numerous detail shots of his boundary-breaking naturalism, whether a grubby foot or the soft folds of a sagging stomach. Five accompanying chapters trace the complete arc of Caravaggio’s career from his first public commissions in Rome through to his growing celebrity status, while the book’s detailed chronology traces his tempestuous personal life, in which drama loomed as prominently as in his chiaroscuro canvases.
Please note that this is a compact version of the collection. If you wish to purchase a larger-scale copy, a hard-cover version is sometimes available. Alternatively, you may like to consider Rossella Vodret’s Caravaggio: The Complete Works.
3. Caravaggio (2007)
by John T Spike
The result of over 20 years of research by a leading authority on Caravaggio, this work reproduces every known work of the artist. John T. Spike explores in detail Caravaggio’s scandalous life and provocative work. Placing Caravaggio within the broad panorama of society and ideas at the turn of the 17th century, the author sets a detailed stage for an artist who has been called ‘the first modern painter’. Caravaggio (1571-1610) reflected in his canvases his own desires and spiritual crises to an extent no one ever had imagined possible, and he shocked his contemporaries by portraying the saints and virgins of Christianity with the faces and bodies of his companions and lovers in Rome’s demimonde. Accompanying the book is a CD-ROM in which all of Caravaggio’s extant paintings, as well as lost and rejected works, are described. Each entry specifies the work’s medium, dimensions, location, and provenance, and provides an annotated bibliography of sources. Most of the entries conclude with a brief technical analysis.
4. Caravaggio: Art, Knighthood and Malta (2006)
by David M. Stone and Keith Sciberras
Caravaggio’s sojourn on the island of Malta in 1607-08 is one of the most fascinating episodes in Baroque art. The painter had committed a murder in Rome in May 1606 and subsequently fled to Naples, where he soon became well-known for his gritty, naturalistic altarpieces. Suddenly, in the early summer of 1607, he decided to leave his thriving Neapolitan studio for the newly built city of Valletta, the headquarters of the Knights of Malta. The chance to obtain a knighthood and redeem himself for his Roman crime was no doubt foremost in his mind.
Written by two leading authorities in the field, this richly illustrated book tells the story of Caravaggio’s voyage to Malta, his interactions with the Knights and their leader, Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt, and the magnificent paintings he made for them. Among the works he produced on the island are the Beheading of St John the Baptist – his largest and only signed picture – and the St Jerome Writing, a canvas of exceptional pyschological force.
The book presents new iconographic, technical, and stylistic analyses of all of the Maltese pictures as well as two chapters devoted to discussions of Caravaggio’s importance in the history of art and the chronological problems in his late works. Based on original archival research, this study also includes an account of Caravaggio’s crime in Malta, his imprisonment, and his daring escape to Sicily.
5. Caravaggio and the Creation of Modernity (2016)
by Troy Thomas
Undeniably one of the greatest artists of all time, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio would develop a radically new kind of psychologically expressive, realistic art and, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, would lay the foundations for modern painting. His paintings defied tradition to such a degree that the meaning of his works have divided critics and viewers for centuries. In this original study, Troy Thomas examines Caravaggio’s life and art in relationship to the profound beginnings of modernity, exploring the many conventions that Caravaggio utterly dismantled with his extraordinary genius.
Thomas begins with an in-depth look at Caravaggio’s early life and works and examines how he refined his realism, developed his obsession with darkness and light, and began to find the subtle and clever ambiguity of genre and meaning that would become his trademark. Focusing acutely on the inherent tensions, contradictions, and ambiguities within Caravaggio’s paintings, Thomas goes on to examine his mature religious works and the ways he created a powerful but stark and enigmatic expressiveness in his protagonists. Lastly, he delves into the artist’s final hectic years as a fugitive killer evading papal police and wandering the cities of southern Italy.
Richly illustrated in colour throughout, Caravaggio and the Creation of Modernity will appeal to all of those fascinated by the history of art and the remarkable lives of Renaissance masters.