Michelangelo Merisi ; 29 September (1571– 18 July 1610) was an Italian painter active in Rome, Naples, Malta, and Sicily from the early 1590s to 1610. His paintings combine a realistic observation of the human state, both physical and emotional, with a dramatic use of lighting, which had a formative influence on Baroque painting.
Caravaggio employed close physical observation with a dramatic use of chiaroscuro that came to be known as tenebrism. He made the technique a dominant stylistic element, darkening shadows and transfixing subjects in bright shafts of light. Caravaggio vividly expressed crucial moments and scenes, often featuring violent struggles, torture and death. He worked rapidly, with live models, preferring to forgo drawings and work directly onto the canvas.
Caravaggio’s innovations inspired Baroque painting, but the Baroque incorporated the drama of his chiaroscuro without the psychological realism. The style evolved and fashions changed, and Caravaggio fell out of favour. In the 20th century interest in his work revived, and his importance to the development of Western art was re-evaluated. The 20th-century art historian André Berne-Joffroy stated, “What begins in the work of Caravaggio is, quite simply, modern painting.”
In Rome there was demand for paintings to fill the many huge new churches and palazzi being built at the time. It was also a period when the Church was searching for a stylistic alternative to Mannerism in religious art that was tasked to counter the threat of Protestantism.