Caravaggio, Andrew Graham-Dixon

He was a painter who did not have students and who had no workshop. He was a painter who never made drawings before a painting. He was a painter with almost no official education, who had to learn the trade himself. He was a painter who went against fashion and stayed true to himself.

Michaelangelo Merisi was born in 1571 in the little town of Caravaggio. His parents were not poor and not rich, but had connections to the powerful Colonna family; his mothers sisters was wet-nurse to their children. The countess herself always paid much attention to the family and little Michaelangelo.  

Growing up in Milano and after being an apprentice to a third-rate painter, Michaelangelo went to Rome in the hope he could make it there.

The first years were hard, but he finally got the patronage of cardinal Del Monte and later of cardinal Mattei. They managed to get several commissions for him, but not all of his work was received well.

He painted the saints, Mary and Jesus like ordinary people, surrounded by ordinary people and the poor of Rome loved his work. They recognized themselves in the  paintings of Michaelangelo da Caravaggio.
The officials of the art-academy and of the Church were not so happy with this way of painting.
The Madonna of Loreto.
Pilgrims with dirty feet? Shameful!
They accused him of only being able to paint what he saw, and that he was not capable of doing what an artist should do in those days; elevate a subject to an ideal. Portraying the Madonna with dirty feet or as an ordinary woman was unheard of.

Despite the fact that his works were often denied, Caravaggio kept to his own style, he did not follow the fashion by painting elevated and busy baroque-paintings full of angels.
Death of the Virgin by Caravaggio.
This painting was denied, because the Madonna
looked too much like a real and really dead woman

This was the painting that replaced it.
Many, many angels.
Carlo Saraceni. 
He was not a happy man. He had a short temper and was in court many times for fights and other violent behavior. The snide remarks of his rivals hurt him deeply and he immediately retaliated when his honor was called into question. In 1606 he killed a man in a duel and was forced to leave Rome.

Caravaggio fled to Naples, a city full of poor people, where his innovative way of painting made a deep impression. He hoped his reputation would be mended in Rome and went to Malta to become a Knight in the order of St. John. He thought that when he would be a Knight, he would be able to look all his enemies straight into their eyes.

He managed to become a Knight of Malta, but soon messed things up for himself with his short temper. He was kicked out of the Order and fled to Sicily, where he spend a couple of years.
Finally, in 1610, he died far too soon, on his way back to Rome. He was only thirty-eight years old.
Self portrait
In Rome I bought a very good and interesting biography about this very special artist. I knew the paintings of Caravaggio and like them very much, so I was very happy to find this book so I could learn more about him. 

Andrew Graham-Dixon gives us all the different aspects of Caravaggio, not only of his life, but also of his works. He explains what the meaning behind the paintings is, explains where Caravaggio got his inspirations and how we can interpret several things. I liked how many moments in his life, found their way back into his paintings.

Michaelangelo da Caravaggio was nota n easy man and although there were many who saw his genius, there were also many who disliked his way of painting.

But in the end it is Caravaggio who has had the most success of all the Baroque painters.
His way of bringing a scene back to the essence, back to the most dramatic moment and his way of using light and dark to give emphasis and how he let ordinary people recognize themselves in his works, has had its influence on painters in the centuries after him and even film-directors nowadays.

Caravaggio’s paintings are still admired today. They manage to speak to us and touch us in a way the paintings of most other painter never can.
Full title: Caravaggio, a life sacred and profane
Published in 2011


  1. Sounds fascinating. I've always liked Caravaggio's paintings, but know nothing about the man or his life.

    1. Neither did I, but I loved this biography, it is well written and very, very interesting!

      Kind regards,


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