Caravaggio the Mentor

Caravaggio had a career cut short by an early death. He was both an artist in demand and an artist on the run. Short tempered and confrontational, Caravaggio had to flee Rome and then spent the remainder of his life moving from city to city. Because of this nomadic lifestyle, and perhaps a little bit because of his personality, Caravaggio never ran a formal school or workshop.

However, his influence can be seen in artists that followed him. Even without the formal one-on-one training, his impact is so prevalent that the term “Caravaggisti” has been coined to refer to those artists that paint in a manner similar to Caravaggio.

Italian painters Orazio Gentileschi and Bartolomeo Manfredi were contemporaries of Caravaggio painting in Rome – and known associates. Gentileschi testified for Caravaggio in a court trial and there was mention of a Bartolomeo in another.

Gentileschi was older than Caravaggio and had been painting for some time, but it was his adaptation and use of Caravaggioesque elements that started his career. Gentileschi’s paintings are more poised, more polished. His figures are more delicate, but still used the strong chiaroscuro made famous by his friend.

Manfredi was 18 years old in 1600, but already painting in a style similar to Caravaggio. They were friends, and the Master’s influence can clearly be seen in Manfredi’s paintings. He too, used dramatic lighting, but he also incorporated the theatrical style of placing the figures in a moment in time. His scenes show specific moments when an action is taking place – like a snapshot. It was, perhaps, Manfredi who is most responsible for continuing the legacy of Caravaggio and influencing further generations of Caravaggisti as he was a highly successful painter who himself had followers.

Peter Paul Rubens traveled to Italy in 1600, stopping in Venice, Florence, and Rome. On his trip, he studied classical art and paintings by Renaissance Masters. In Rome he saw works by Caravaggio, just beginning his rise to greatness. Rubens admired Caravaggio’s use of light and the natural qualities of his realism. That influence can be seen in Rubens work as early as 1601.

Caravaggio’s influence as an artist traveled all across Europe. As artists saw his paintings and copies by his followers, Caravaggio’s impact lived on far longer than he did. Other notable painters who have elements of Caravaggio in their works are Honthorst , Georges de la Tour, Artemisia Gentileschi, Rembrandt, and Velázquez.

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