mona lisa smileLove reading analysis of famous paintings? 

Explore 250 top art paintings with the Famous Paintings ebook - and discover highlights in U.S. and European art museumsWith sortable data and introductory art essays. 


Then try smiling like that. 


Famous Paintings Reviewed

Caravaggio Paintings at the Villa Borghese

Posted by Susan Benford

Among the most famous artwork in Rome's Villa Borghese are Caravaggio paintings that span the career of this brilliant but volatile painter.

caravaggio paintings boy with basket fruit resized 600And each one of them has fascinating art history behind it.

Michelangelo Merisi, called Caravaggio (1571-1610), was born in Milan, not in the northern Italian town of Caravaggio, as was believed until several years ago. In Milan, he studied with Simone Peterzano, a former pupil of Titian, but left neither personal history nor works of art there.  

Caravaggio.  Boy with Basket of Fruit, 1593-94.  Oil on canvas, approximately 27" by 26".  Gallery Borghese, Villa Borghese, Rome.

Caravaggio relocated to Rome in late 1592, and apprenticed briefly in the studio of the Cavalier d’Arpino and his brother, Bernardino Cesari, specializing in painting fruits and vegetables. Unlike the typical 16th century artist, Caravaggio rejected the current academic training the devoted years to drawing sculptures and copying artwork made by famous painters.

Instead, he recaptured realism in art and pioneered dramatic lighting effects now known as tenebrism.

Caravaggio paintings in the initial phase of his career feature still lifes and people often found on the street, like cardcheats or cardsharps, fortune-tellers, and beggars. His style was equally pioneering: Caravaggio eschewed initial sketches and painted directly onto the canvas.

Regardless of his less academic and formal style, Caravaggio developed a core of faithful Roman patrons. Among the most significant of these was the legendary art patron Scipione Borghese (1576-1633), whose uncle, Camillo Borghese (1552-1621), became Pope Paul V in 1605. Shortly caravaggio paintings sick bacchus resized 600thereafter, the new Pope gave his favorite nephew the title of Cardinal.

Right: Caravaggio. Self-Portrait as Bacchus (Sick Bacchus), ca. 1593-94.  Oil on canvas, 26" by 21". Gallery Borghese, Villa Borghese, Rome. 

The remarkabe Caravaggio paintings in the Villa Borghese include these famous paintings: 

Boy with a Basket of Fruit, ca. 1593-94 

This early work (above, left) demonstrates Caravaggio’s mastery of realistic depictions of nature, imperfections and all.  Highlights are captured on individual grapes, whose veined, mottled leaves drape over the basket. On the lower right, a dying leaf nearly floats; together with the browning fruit in the center, Caravaggio hints that the bounty and pleasures of life are fleeting. 

The overt sensuality of the young man suggests that these pleasures also include the carnal. The cleft in the ripe, golden peach is repeated in the lad's chin, while its lusciousness is echoed in his bare right shoulder. 

Self-portrait as Bacchus (Sick Bacchus), ca. 1593-94

Many 16th century painters believed that moonlight offered optimal lighting for painting.  This, according to the Borghese Gallery, likely accounts for the greenish, waxy pallor of Bacchus' (or Caravaggio's) complexion (above, right).  The intent of the Bacchus iconography remains unclear, despite extensive art historical debate about it.

What is clear is that Scipione Borghese longed for this work, as well as Boy with a Basket of Fruit, which were both in the hands of the Cavalier d'Arpino.  On the orders of Pope Paul V, these Caravaggio paintings were confiscated and the Cavalier was jailed -- and was freed only when he "gave" the paintings to Cardinal Scipione Borghese. 

Madonna of the Palafrenieri, 1605-06

Originally commissioned for the Saint Anne Chapel in St. Peter's, Madonna of the Palafrenieri was caravaggio paintings madonna palafrenieri resized 600heavily criticized for its alleged lack of decorum and dignity.

Mary teaches the young Jesus how to kill a menacing serpent, a symbol of heresy and evil. Both she and Saint Anne, the patron saint of the confraternity of the Palafrenieri

Caravaggio.  Madonna of the Palafrenieri, ca. 1605-06.  Oil on canvas, approximately 9'7" by 7'.  Gallery Borghese, Villa Borghese, Rome.

who commissioned the work, are depicted as ordinary women. They, like Jesus, are not idealized by Caravaggio. 

Although it isn't known specifically why the confraternity refused to accept the painting, it hung in Saint Peter's for a mere two weeks in April 1606 before Madonna of the Palafrenieri was re-gifted to Cardinal Scipione Borghese. 

Saint Jerome, 1606

The joy of seeing this painting is discovering that Caravaggio painted the quill pen with one assertive brushstroke.  That, along with lengthy brushstrokes in the white cloth and the roughness of the books, cloak and saint's beard, have convinced some art historians that Saint Jerome is unfinished.  

Although St. Jerome is typically portrayed as a penitent, Caravaggio shows him as a devoted caravaggio paintings saint jerome resized 600scholar, reading and annotating scriptures.  

Saint Jerome was commissioned by Scipione Borghese and was included in the Borghese Gallery inventory of 1693.

Caravaggio.  Saint Jerome, 1606.  Oil on canvas, 3' 10" by 5'.  Gallery Borghese, Villa Borghese, Rome.

Curiously, St. Jerome was subsequently attribued to the Spanish painter, Jusepe di Ribera (1591-1652). 

St. John the Baptist, 1610

One of the last attributed Caravaggio paintings, St. John the Baptist was a favored subject in Caravaggio paintings.  Other versions include those in the Galleria Corsini, Rome; the Nelson-Atkins, Kansas City; and the Capitoline Museum, Rome.

caravaggio paintings saint john baptistYet again, Caravaggio's rendition of the subject matter is atypical.  This Saint John is pensive, and looks more like a resting shepherd than a renowned saint.

Caravaggio.  Saint John the Baptist, 1610.  Oil on canvas, approximately 5' by 4' 2". Gallery Borghese, Villa Borghese, Rome.

David with the Head of Goliath, 1606 

Like many Caravaggio paintings, David with the Head of Goliath has long been the subject of debate: in this case, the controversy focuses on dating the work and whether the heads of Goliath and David are self-portraits of Caravaggio. 

The Borghese Gallery provides some clarity, dating it at 1609-1610. 

Giovanni Pietro Bellori, the biographer (and curator to Pope Clement X), documented in 1672 that Goliath was Caravaggio's self-portrait.  Recent conjecture suggests that David was also a self-portrait, despite his similarity to Saint John.

The rapid brushstrokes in David with the Head of Goliath pay homage to late Titian paintings.

Known for his volatile temper and fits of rage, Caravaggio murdered a man, Ranuccio Tommasoni, caravaggio paintings david with head goliath resized 600in May 1606.  Although his influential patrons had shielded him from other legal infractions, there was no recourse here.   Ironically, Caravaggio was sentenced to death by Pope Paul V.  

Caravaggio.  David with the Head of Goliath, 1606.  Oil on canvas, 4' 2" by 4' 4".  Gallery Borghese, Villa Borghese, Rome.

Many art historians believe that Caravaggio painted David with the Head of Goliath as a admission of guilt and remorse by depicting himself as the decapitated head of David.  He presented David, along with St. John the Baptist, to the papal court as a (highly unusual) request for a papal pardon.

Tragically, Caravaggio died in exile before learning that the pardon had been granted.

Can't get enough of Caravaggio, either? Explore:

And feel free to weigh in on your favorites.

Topics: Caravaggio paintings, Villa Borghese

Join this Blog - (and add your thoughts!)

Feeling Lucky?

famous paintings cards

Good - because we're feeling generous!

Join this blog and earn a chance to win a FREE set of Masterpiece Cards (a $60 value). 

Enter Me to Win!

Famous Paintings ebook

This free ebook has a wealth of facts and articles about the 250 influential paintings in Masterpiece Cards.

Did we mention it's free? d0e42560-d745-43b3-8b2d-9ee2d3273b82

Famous Painters Blogroll

Anguissola, Three Sisters Playing Chess and Phillip II of Spain

Beckmann, Blind Man's Buff

Beckmann, Departure; Self-Portrait in Tuxedo; Sinking of Titanic

Bingham, Fur Traders Descending the Missouri

BonheurPlowing in the Nivernais

Bonheur, The Horse Fair

Bosch, Garden of Earthly Delights

Botticelli, Primavera

Caillebotte, Gustave, The Floor Scrapers; The House Painters; Pont de l'Europe; Paris Street, Rainy Day; Fruit Displayed on a Stand

Caravaggio, Fashion and Art History

CaravaggioConversion of St. Paul

Caravaggio, Young, Sick Bacchus and Basket of Fruit

Caravaggio, Cardsharps and Fortune Teller

Caravaggio, St. Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy

Caravaggio, Taking of Christ (Kiss of Judas)

Caravaggio Paintings at the Villa Borghese

Cave Paintings

Cezanne, Bathers 

Cezanne, Card Players

Cezanne, Madame Cezanne Paintings

Cezanne, Most Famous Paintings

Cezanne, Red Dress series

Copley, Paul Revere

David, Death of Marat 

David, Death of Socrates

David, Napoleon Crossing the Alps

de Kooning, Retrospective at MoMA (Part I)

de Kooning,Excavation and Painting, 1948 

de KooningWoman I

Degas, The Bellilli Family, The Dance Class, In a Cafe (Absinthe Drinker)

Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People  

Diebenkorn, The Ocean Park Series

Duncanson, Robert Seldon.  Art History Welcomes Duncanson 

Durer, The Four Apostles

El Greco, Burial of Count Orgaz

El Greco, View of Toledo

FontanaPortrait of a Noblewoman

Frankenthaler, Color Field Painting and Mountains and Sea

Gainsborough, The Blue Boy

Gentileschi, Artemisia.  Judith Beheading Holofernes

Gentileschi, Artemisia.  Self-Portrait as an Allegory of Painting 

Ghent Altarpiece.  

GiorgioneThree Philosophers 

Goya, Duchess of Alba

Goya, Family of Charles IV

Goya, Self-Portrait with Dr. Arrieta

Goya, The Third of May 1808 

Goya, Duchess of Alba; Saturn Devouring his Son; Two Old Men; Half-Submerged Dog; Black Paintings

Grunewald, Isenheim Altarpiece

Hals, Banquet of the Officers of the St. George Civic Guard

Hals, The Laughing Cavalier

Hals, Regents of St. Elizabeth's Hospital

Hopper, Nighthawks

Ingres, Grande Odalisque and Portrait of Madame Moissetier

Ingres, Oedipus and the Sphinx

Isenheim Altarpiece

Kahlo, Renowned Frida Kahlo Paintings.  

Angelica Kauffmann.  Self-Portrait Torn Between Music and Painting and David Garrick.  

Klimt, The Kiss and Adele Bloch-Bauer

Lawrence, Great Migration Series

Leonardo, Lady with an Ermine

Leonardo, Painter at the Court of Milan, National Gallery, London 

Leonardo, La Bella Principessa 

Leonardo, New Mona Lisa

Leonardo, Benois Madonna and Madonna Litta 

Leonardo, Savior of the World(Salvator Mundi) 

Leonardo, The Virgin and Child with St. Anne

Leyster, Famous Female Painters

20 Louvre Paintings not to Miss 

ManetA Bar at the Folies-Bergere

Manet, Luncheon in the Studio

Manet, The Old Musician

Manet, Street Singer

MantegnaDead Christ

Matisse Paintings, In Search of True Painting

Matisse, The DanceThe Music

Matisse, The Cone Collection

Matisse, The Red Studio

Matisse, The Yellow Dress

Michelangelo, Crucifixion with the Madonna

Michelangelo, Famous Paintings

Michelangelo, La Pieta with Two Angels (latest attribution?)

Michelangelo, St. John the Baptist Bearing Witness

Modersohn-Becker, Famous Female Painters

Monet, Impression, Sunrise

Monet, Nymphaes, Le Pont de l'Europe

Monet Paintings at the Marmottan Monet Museum

Monet, Waterlilies

Morisot, Famous Paintings

MorisotMore Famous Paintings

Munch, The Scream

O'Keeffe, Jack in the Pulpit

Peeters, Clara

Picasso, Girl Before a Mirror

Picasso, Nude, Green Leaves and Bust

Picasso, Portrait of Gertrude Stein

Picasso, Las Meninas

Piero della Francesca, The Baptism of Christ

Pippin, Domino Players and Cabin in the Cotton

Poussin, Assumption of the Virgin

Raphael, Sistine Madonna

Rembrandt, Aristotle with a Bust of Homer 

Rembrandt, Night Watch

Rembrandt paintings at Frick Show

Rembrandt, Self-Portrait at an Early AgeJeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem, The Jewish Bride

Rembrandt, The Syndics of the Amsterdam Drapers' Guild

Rubens, Venus and Adonis

Sanchez Cotan, Spanish Still-life

Sargent, El Jaleo

Sargent, Madame X

Sargent, Smoke of Ambergris

Steen, The Christening Feast 

Steen paintings at Frick Show

Tanner, The Banjo Lesson and The Thankful Poor

Titian, Assumption of the Virgin

Titian, Bacchus and Ariadne

Titian, Man with a Glove

Titian, Nymph and Shepherd, Allegory of Prudence, Jacopa Strada, St. Jerome, Slaying of Marysas

Titian, Rape of Europa

Turner, J. M. W, The Fighting Temeraire

Uccello, Battle of San Romano

van der Weyden, St. Luke Drawing the Virgin

van Eyck, Arnolfini Portrait

van Eyck, Adoration of the Lamb

van Eyck, Ghent Altarpiece

van Gogh, The Potato Eaters

van GoghMemory of Garden at Etten; Tatched Cottages; White House

van Gogh,  Portrait of Madam Trabuc; Morning: Going Out

van Gogh, Starry Night

van Gogh, Three Pairs of Shoes

Vincent van Gogh paintings up to 1889

Vincent van Gogh paintings, 1888-1890

Vigee-LeBrun, Marie Antoinette and Her Children, Self Portrait, Self-Portrait with Julie

Velazquez, Juan de Pareja

Velazquez, Pope Innocent X

Velazquez, Overview of Famous Paintings

Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring

Vermeer, Saint Praxedis

Vermeer, The Kitchen Maid

Vermeer, The Allegory of Painting

VermeerGirl with the Red Hat

Vigee-LeBrun, Marie Antoinette and Her ChildrenSelf PortraitSelf-Portrait with Julie

Warhol, Campbell's Soup Cans

Warhol, Marilyn Diptych and Gold Marilyn 

Warhol, Mao 

Whistler, Whistler's Mother

Anders Zorn

Famous Paintings by Art Museums

Learn about famous paintings to see in these art museums:

Albright-Knox Art Gallery (Buffalo, NY). One of those intimate, small art museums with a stellar collectionExplore famous paintings at the Albright-Knox. 

Art Institute of Chicago: Plan to see these famous paintings at the Art Institute -- and download an ebook about them.

Louvre Museum, (Paris): one of the largest art museums in the world! Know which Louvre paintings not to miss in this sortable ebook. 

Mauritshuis Museum: explore works by renowned Dutch painters

Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City): download the ebook, Famous-Paintings-Metropolitan-Museum, to learn its must-see masterpieces. Or read the blog post, "Famous Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum". 

National Gallery (London): with 2300 famous paintings alone in its European painting section, discover highlights to see!  Art Paintings to See at the National Gallery.

Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam): 10 famous paintings not to miss

Washington, D.C. Art Museums: Explore forty famous paintings in Washington, DC in this article.

Whitney Museum of American Art.  Don't miss these 10 famous paintings at the Whitney.

Most Popular Posts

Michelangelo PaintingsThe Torment of Saint Anthony; The Manchester Madonna;Holy Family (Doni Tondo); and Entombment

Cave Paintings: explore this prehistoric art in Spain and France.

Picasso's Las Meninas: 58 Picasso paintings inspired by Velazquez's Las Meninas

Ghent Altarpiece: the van Eyck masterpiece, one of the most famous artworks ever made. 

10 Famous Paintings at the Prado. Don't miss a one of these.

Survey of Renaissance Paintings: want to know what Renaissance paintings were all about? Start with 20 of its most famous painters in this sweeping survey! 

Discover more of readers' favorite art history blog posts. 

Female Artists

While we long for the time when artists are artists and genderless, that time isn't yet here.

These are a few of the female artists who've left lasting legacies in the history of painting:

Sofonisba AnguissolaThree Sisters Playing ChessPhillip II of Spain

Rosa Bonheur.  Plowing in the Nivernais.  Horse Fair.

Lavinia Fontana. Portrait of a Noblewoman.

Helen Frankenthaler. Color Field Painting and Mountains and Sea. 

Artemisia Gentileschi.  Judith Beheading Holofernes.  Self-Portrait as an Allegory of Painting.

Frida Kahlo.  Frida and Diego Rivera.  The Two Fridas.  The Love Embrace of the Universe. 

Angelica Kauffmann.  Self-Portrait Torn Between Music and Painting.  David Garrick.

Elisabeth Vigee-LeBrun.  Self-Portrait; Marie Antoinette and Her Children; Self-Portrait with Julie

Judith Leyster.  Self-Portrait.  The Proposition. 

Paula Modersohn-Becker. Self-Portrait with an Amber Necklace. Still Life with Goldfish. 

Berthe Morisot.  Refuge in Normandy.  The Cradle. 

Georgia O'Keeffe. Jack in the Pulpit Series. 

Survey of Female Artists

Art History Beyond Europe

A few forays into art outside Europe:

African Art and Bocio

African Mask of Idia


Japanese Woodblock Prints: The Great Wave

The Terracotta Warriors