When you walk through the old neighborhoods of Rome within blocks of Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, and the convent where we are staying, you’re walking the turf of arguably the greatest painter who ever lived. Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio is a true master of painting who lived and worked in Baroque Rome when it was a very seedy and dangerous place. His style of chiaroscuro (or dramatic dark and light)and in-your-face style of painting was revolutionary when he burst onto the scene in 1600. His works are intense and overly dramatic, often brutal, but undeniably powerful. They are also scattered all around Rome waiting to be found, hanging in little side churches where you have to insert a coin to turn on the lights for a few minutes.
As if Caravaggio’s paintings weren’t fascinating enough, he possesses perhaps the most wild biographical story of any artist. It wasn’t enough for Caravaggio to be a revolutionary painter. He was a tortured person who lived for trouble, painting controversial paintings by day and picking sword duels and bar fights by night. He was arrested by the Roman authorities many times and the prison records still exist. Eventually, he killed a rival artist in a sword duel just off of Piazza Navona, and fled south to Naples to save his skin. Not surprisingly, he died young and under mysterious circumstances. His works remain a direct result of his violent nature. There is a fantastic documentary on Caravaggio as part of Simon Schama’s POWER of ART series. It’s in 4 parts- part 1 is here:
This is the best film on Caravaggio. Like his work, it’s in your face and brutal, but you should absolutely watch it before you go to Rome. Enjoy.