Caravaggio the Middle Years

In 1597, Caravaggio was commissioned to paint 3 large paintings for the Contarelli Chapel in the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome.  The Cardinal Del Monte was most likely instrumental in securing this important project for Caravaggio.  This commission was a breakthrough for the young artist and helped to establish Caravaggio as a renowned painter.  The large commission was an ambitious one, he was to paint 3 large scenes of the life of Saint Matthew:  St. Matthew and the Angel, The Calling of St. Matthew, and The Martyrdom of St. Matthew.  Caravaggio depicted the saint in a dramatic realism unlike the pictorial style traditionally seen.  These realistic paintings caused a stir in Rome and also marked a change in the artist’s focus.  From here on out Caravaggio painted traditional religious themes. 


By 1602, the decorations for the Contarelli Chapel were complete and Caravaggio’s renown surpassed his colleagues as his fame spread throughout Europe.  The demand for paintings from Caravaggio grew and he completed works such as The Deposition of Christ, Death of the Virgin, The Crucifixion of St. Peter, and The Conversion of St. Paul.

From 1600 on Caravaggio was known by the Rome police due to his turbulent life.  He was accused of attacking a colleague with a stick and raising his sword and wounding a soldier.  In 1603, he was imprisoned when a libel action was brought against him by fellow painter, Giovanni Baglione.  In 1604, he was accused of throwing a plate of artichokes in the face of a waiter, and then later that year he was arrested for harassing and throwing stones at a Roman Guard.  In 1605, he was arrested for carrying arms without permission.  Later that year he fled Rome after stabbing a man in a fight over a woman.  Within a year he had returned to Rome and was once again forced to flee when on May 29, 1606 he got into a fight over a tennis match and killed Ranuccio Tomassoni.

Continue Reading: Caravaggio's Biography the Late Years

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