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Famous Paintings Reviewed

Caravaggio Paintings: St. Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy

Posted by Susan Benford

The fame of Caravaggio paintings is particularly astonishing given the brevity of his life, a mere 38 years (1571-1610).  Equally awe-inspiring are the accomplishments of this pioneer of Baroque paintings:

  • Caravaggio revolutionized contemporary Roman painting by
    rejecting classicism and portraying ordinary people rather than models; 
  • He perfected chiaroscuro (the modelling of volume by strongly contrasting light and shadow), a technique long used but never so skillfully; 

caravaggio paintings

  • His innovative, naturalistic depictions of anguish, guilt and lust spawned a school of followers, the Caravaggisti, in France, the Netherlands, and Spain.

Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio.  The Cardsharps, 1595-96.  Oil on canvas, 37 1/8" x 51 5/8".  Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas.

Born Michelangelo Merisi in the Lombard town called Caravaggio, he traveled in 1592 to Rome - the artistic hub of Italy - during the Counter Reformation.  The Catholic Church was attempting to win back Protestant converts by re-building and renovating Rome's churches and institutions; there were plentiful opportunities for Italian Baroque painters, especially those skilled in the naturalistic art the Church sought.  

Naturalistic paintings, the Church supposed, would stress the human-ness in Biblical events and the lives of the saints.  This Counter Reformation theology, for instance, rendered Peter's repentance after his denial a more compelling subject than the denial itself. With its emphasis on naturalism, the Church sanctioned depiction of emotional distress or physical violence.

Enter Caravaggio.

Although Caravaggio's early years in Rome were difficult, he arrived as the numbers of wealthy collectors were on the uptick.  Also, his luck changed when he befriended a prominent Cardinal, Francesco del Monte, who recognized Caravaggio's talents and took him into his household. 

Some art historians contend that Cardinal del Monte resembles the saint in one of the earliest Caravaggio paintingsSt. Francis caravaggio paintings

of Assisi in Ecstasy.  Here, the saint's body has recoiled from divine intervention, with one hand limp and the other clenched while one eye peers half-open and the other is closed.

Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio.  Saint Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy, ca. 1594.  Oil on canvas, 36 3/8" by 50 1/4".  Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT.

Critics were shocked by the portrayal of an unshaven saint with dirty feet.

Caravaggio shows only St. Francis' heart wound.  He is cradled by a rosy-cheeked angel, (whose face, or a similar one, appears in other Caravaggio paintings including Boy Peeling Fruit of 1592-93, below, the earliest known Caravaggio painting, and the youth being cheated in The Cardsharps, 1595-1596, above).

Through del Monte's circles, Caravaggio received a breakthrough commission at age 24, a triptych of St. Matthew for the Contarelli Chapel in the Rome church of San Luigi del Francesci.  These three Caravaggio paintings revealled his skill with scenes of confrontation and heightened drama.  Their exacting naturalism and intense chiaroscuro made the Caravaggio paintings controversial... while cementing his reputation for brilliance.

Caravaggio not only painted scenes of confrontation but lived them.  Known as tempetous caravaggio boy peeling fruit resized 600and volatile, he had in 1606 an argument with a young man - variously reported as over a tennis match, a woman or a bet - that led to a swordfight and the man's subsequent death.  Caravaggio fled Rome.  

Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio.  Boy Peeling Fruit, 1592-1593.  Oil on canvas, approximately 30" by 25".  Longhi Collection, Rome.

The remainder of Caravaggio's life consisted primarily of painting and brawling.  He died in 1610 at the age of 36, en route to Rome to receive a Papal pardon.

Despite his short life, the legacy of Caravaggio is enduring, as expressed by the art critic Roberto Longhi:

Ribera, Vermeer, La Tour and Rembrandt could never have existed without him [Caravaggio].  And the art of Delacroix, Courbet and Manet would have been utterly different". 

What an astonishing legacy given that there are 34 recognized Caravaggio paintings!

Question: Look at all three of these Caravaggio paintings. Do you believe the young boy - whose name isn't known, to the best of my knowledge - is the same in each? Do chime in!

Explore more Caravaggio paintings including Conversion of St. Paul and the only known still life by Caravaggio, Basket of Fruit

 

Topics: Caravaggio paintings, Baroque paintings

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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.

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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

Coatlique 

Japanese Woodblock Prints: The Great Wave

The Terracotta Warriors