The Artist Birthday Series

Caravaggio

In 1599, presumably through the help of influential friends, Caravaggio was contracted to decorate the Contarelli Chapel in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi. The two works making up the commission, the Martyrdom of Saint Matthew and Calling of Saint Matthew, delivered in 1600, were an immediate sensation. Caravaggio’s tenebrism (a heightened chiaroscuro) brought high drama to his subjects, while his acutely observed realism brought a new level of emotional intensity. Opinion among Caravaggio’s artist peers was polarized. Some denounced him for various perceived failings, notably his insistence on painting from life, without drawings, but for the most part he was hailed as a great artistic visionary. 17th century biographer Giovanni Pietro Bellori wrote: “The painters then in Rome were greatly taken by this novelty, and the young ones particularly gathered around him, praised him as the unique imitator of nature, and looked on his work as miracles.”

"The Martyrdom Of Saint Matthew," 1599-1600
“The Martyrdom Of Saint Matthew,” 1599-1600

 

"The Calling of Saint Matthew," 1599
“The Calling of Saint Matthew,” 1599

From that time on,Β he never lacked commissions or patrons, yet he handled his success poorly. An early published notice on him, dating from 1604 and describing his lifestyle three years previously, recounts that “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.”

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