1 His real name was actually Michelangelo Merisi and he was born in September 1571 in Caravaggio, the town which later gave him the name he was known by.
2 Caravaggio had a tragic childhood due to many of his family dying from the Bubonic Plague. His father, his grandfather and grandmother and even his uncle Pietro had succumbed to the plague epidemic by the time he was only six years old. His mother lasted another four years before also dying of the plague. Some believe that his sense of abandonment and his fearsome temper developed as a result.
3 It seems likely from historical evidence that he was involved in the killing of a policeman. He left the country of Lombardy for Rome 1592 under a suspicious cloud, and sold his family’s lands never to return.
4 His first years in Rome were unpleasant and difficult for him. At one point his master and benefactor was Pandolfo Pucci who apparently gave him nothing to eat in the evening but salad. Caravaggio called him ‘Monsignor Salad,’ and left after just a few months.
5 His first public work was decorating Contarelli Chapel in Rome with scenes from the life of St Matthew. He soon became known for his unique realistic style and his bold contrasts of light and shade (later called tenebrism). He painted these older biblical scenes set in the present day, with St Matthew’s calling by Christ being set in a modern tax collector’s office located in what looks like a Roman basement.
6 There is some evidence that he operated as a pimp to provide extra income as well as female models for his painting. It was against the law for women to pose for painters at the time, so prostitutes were a way out of this dilemma. He probably used the women for casual sex as well.
7 Not only was he a master of painting, he was a master brawler, not to mention an excellent swordsman and duellist. Famed for having a terrible temper, he killed his rival Tomassoni in a duel (disguised as a game of tennis) by stabbing him to death and had to flee Rome. This was right at the height of his fame and his crime sent him off as a fugitive around Malta, Sicily, and the south of Italy.
8 He was offered a knighthood while he was in Malta by the Grandmaster of the Knights of Saint John. He lost it because he assaulted a higher ranking knight and ended up in prison. He escaped prison and ended up in Sicily where he was ambushed by men associated with said knight and ended up with a permanently disfigured face.
9 In 1609, Caravaggio was seriously wounded during a fight in a tavern in the city of Naples. In 1610 he was pardoned for the murder in Rome, but unfortunately he died from a fever not long after in July of that very same year.
10 His work inspired many artists including Rubens and Rembrandt. Interestingly his influence even extends to the present day with film directors like Martin Scorsese saying that Caravaggio’s realistic and stark contrast of light and darkness, as well as how the settings are often arranged like movie stills has been an influence on his cinematography.
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