Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites




Caravaggio (1571 – 1610) was active in Rome, Naples, Malta, and Sicily from the early 1590s to 1610. His paintings combine the realistic observation of the physical and emotional human situation with the dramatic use of lighting. He made the technique of darkening shadows and transfixing subjects in bright shafts of light his dominant stylistic element.  His influence on the new Baroque style that emerged from Mannerism was profound. In the 20th century, interest in his work revived. Since then, his importance to the development of Western art has been elevated.

Caravaggio trained in Milan before moving in his twenties to Rome. He developed a considerable name as an artist, and as a violent and provocative man. A brawl led to a death sentence for murder, which forced him to flee to Naples. There he again established himself as one of the most prominent Italian painters of his generation. He traveled in 1607 to Malta and on to Sicily and pursued a papal pardon for his sentence.

In 1609 he returned to Naples, where he was involved in a violent clash; his face was disfigured, and rumors of his death circulated. Questions about his mental state arose from his erratic and bizarre behavior. He died in 1610 under uncertain circumstances while on his way from Naples to Rome. Reports stated that he died of a fever, but suggestions have been made that he was murdered or that he died of lead poisoning.

A Tour of Caravaggio’s Masterpieces

  • Supper at Emmaus(National Gallery, London)
    • “Supper at Emmaus” by Caravaggio depicts the moment when the resurrected Jesus reveals himself to two of his surprised disciples, only to soon vanish from their sight, as told in the Gospel of Luke 24: 30–31. One of the disciples, Cleopas, wears the scallop shell of a pilgrim on his clothing. The other apostle, presumed to be Luke, wears the green torn coat. The standing waiter appears oblivious to the unexpected event that is taking place. Museum: The National Gallery, London
  • Supper at Emmaus (Brera Art Gallery)
    • “Supper at Emmaus” by Caravaggio depicts the moment which according to the Gospel, took place in the town of Emmaus. Luke reports that Jesus appeared, after his death and resurrection, before two of his disciples while they were walking on the road to Emmaus. Its geographical identification is not clear, several locations having been suggested throughout history, all we know about the town is that it is on the road connecting with Jerusalem. Museum: Brera Art Gallery, Pinacoteca di Brera
  • The Musicians
    • The Musicians by Caravaggio shows four boys in classical costume, three playing various musical instruments and singing, the fourth is dressed as Cupid, and reaching towards a bunch of grapes. Caravaggio seems to have composed the painting based on the studies of two key figures. The central character with the lute has been identified with Caravaggio’s companion Mario Minniti, and the individual next to him and facing the viewer is possibly a self-portrait of Caravaggio. The cupid bears a strong resemblance to a boy he painted in two previous paintings. Museum: Metropolitan Museum of Art – MET
  • The Taking of Christ
    • “The Taking of Christ” by Caravaggio depicts the arrest of Jesus just as Judas kisses Jesus to identify him for the soldiers. There are seven figures in the painting; they are John, Jesus, Judas, three soldiers, and a man holding a lantern to the scene. The characters are portrayed before a very dark background. The man at the right holding a lantern is believed to be a self-portrait of Caravaggio. At the far left, St John is fleeing as a soldier is grabbing his cloak. Museum: National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin
  • The Fortune Teller (Louvre Museum)
    • “The Fortune Teller” by Caravaggio shows a pretentiously dressed boy, having his palm read by a gypsy girl. The boy looks with anticipation as he gazes into her face, and she returns his gaze. The boy’s feathered hat, the gloves, and the oversized dagger immediately tell us that the boy is not sophisticated or experienced. The gypsy girl with her light linen shirt and her exotic wrap is also intended to represent a “type” rather than as a real person. The Italian Baroque artist, Caravaggio, painted two versions of this painting. The first in 1594 which is now in the Capitoline Museums in Rome and his second version in 1595, which is in the Louvre Museum, Paris. Museum:  Musée du Louvre

Caravaggio Insights

  • Caravaggio is a small town near Milan where Caravaggio was born, around 1571, and from where he took his nickname.
  • Caravaggio became an orphan at age 11. The bubonic plague killed most of his family.
  • Caravaggio was an essential pioneer of the chiaroscuro technique.
  • Almost all of his works portray a single light source, illuminating the action.
  • Caravaggio had a violent temper, which often got him into fights.
  • Caravaggio liked to include himself in his works.
  • Caravaggio was fiercely competitive and scathing of his artistic rivals.
  • In 1606 he fled Rome after he killed a man in a brawl.
  • Caravaggio had a death warrant issued for him by the Pope.
  • He died in 1610, aged 38.
  • Caravaggio left behind no letters, but from court records, we have many details of his offenses.
  • In 2010, scientists found remains believed to be Caravaggio’s.
  • His remains contained high levels of lead, and it is speculated that lead poisoning caused both the painter’s erratic behavior and his death.
  • Caravaggio was never famous in his lifetime; however, many who saw his work realized that they embodied something amazingly new.
  • Caravaggio’s style spread rapidly throughout Europe, after his death.


A Tour of Artists and their Art


  • “If Caravaggio were alive today, he would have loved the cinema; his paintings take a cinematic approach.” – Martin Scorsese


“If Caravaggio were alive today,
he would have loved the cinema;
his paintings take a cinematic approach.”

– Martin Scorsese


Photo Credit 1) Ottavio Leoni [Public domain]