amerighi caravaggio


Passionate, volatile and violent, but supremely talented to the very end, Michelangelo Amerighi da Caravaggio (1571-1610), was probably the most revolutionary artist of his time, for he abandoned the rules that had guided a century of artists who had idealized both the human and religious experience. Caravaggio can be said almost single-handedly to have created the Baroque style.  Perhaps, the most interesting are his later works, in that we might see them as less characteristic of his early Mannerism.  These umbrageous-style last paintings may tell us more about the artist’s last days than meets the eye.  Despite Caravaggio’s precarious circumstances, we see in these paintings his ability to transmute a fraught state of mind into finely observed scenes of tremendous dramatic tension.  At the time of painting his final two masterworks—The Denial of Saint Peter and The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula, both from 1610Caravaggio was in extremis: he fled Rome after killing a well-known local pimp in a brawl, and then was forced to leave Malta after assaulting Fra Giovanni Rodomonte Roero; a high-ranking knight in the Maltese order of St. John who sought vengeance and pursued him.  Created to be sold on the Neapolitan art market, The Denial of Saint Peter (1610), depicts a woman accusing the saint of being a follower of Christ while a soldier looks on. Referencing Saint Peter’s three denials, Caravaggio painted the soldier pointing one finger, whilst the woman is shown pointing an additional two fingers in his direction.  Although Caravaggio painted both works in his trademark chiaroscuro style, contrasting light areas against dark backgrounds to evoke a theatrical atmosphere of intensity and suspense, he takes his chiaroscuro to the extreme, engulfing the greater part of his figures in darkness, a bit in a manner that was to later resonate with Neapolitans, by the intensity of another great Chiaroscuro master, Salvator Rosa (1615-1673).