Vagaries in the fashion world are too numerous to catalog, yet we imagine that art history is immune from such trendiness. Given the widespread adulation for Caravaggio paintings (a phenomenon ARTNews described as "Caravaggio mania"), it's informative to realize that art history, like fashion, DOES dictate what is and isn't famous.
Caravaggio, The Musicians. Oil on canvas, ca. 1595. 36 1/4" by 46 5/8". Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Our beloved Caravaggio is a case in point.
While details are scant about Carvaggio's brief lifetime (1571-1610), it is known that he was born in Milan, where he trained with the painter Simone Peterzano. While his contemporaries followed an academic approach to painting - apprenticing in workshops; drawing ancient sculptures; copying famous painters of the past - Caravaggio opted instead to paint reality "from nature".
Some of these earliest Caravaggio paintings are Boy With a Basket of Fruit and The Cardsharps (or The Fortune Teller, below). His masterful handling of light and dark, or chiascuro, defines his style; his secular and religious paintings were in high demand during his lifetime.
Who would have foreseen that Caravaggio would tumble into art history obscurity for the next three centuries? After his untimely death
Caravaggio, The Cardsharps. Oil on canvas, 1595 - 96. Approximately 36" by 50". Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas.
"He never could suffer those who followed Caravaggio, perceiving that this manner is the precipice and total ruin of the most noble and accomplished art of painting, because, although his mere imitation of nature is partly commendable, it was destined to nonetheless engender all those evils that have ensued in the past forty years."
After 300 years in the dustbin of art history, how did Caravaggio become rehabilitated, entrenched now in the ranks of indisputably famous painters?
I'd cite these main factors:
the art historian, Roberto Longhi (1890-1970) penned in 1928 - 1934 a series of articles about Caravaggio paintings, proclaiming his talent to fellow art historians and thereby stimulating research;
in 1951, Longhi cataloged a landmark Milan exhibition of Caravaggisti and Caravaggio paintings;
gender studies in the 1970s, which, as ARTnews notes, fostered speculation about Caravaggio's sexuality; and
the Metropolitan's 1985 exhibition,"The Age of Caravaggio", introduced Caravaggio to the U.S. public.
I bet he won't disappear into the shadows of art history ever again. Meanwhile, I'm wondering which popular modern artists will be soon regarded as trends, and which other famous painters in art history will be discovered. Or re-discovered...