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The International Writers Magazine:Art and Artists

Caravaggio - The Other Michaelangelo
• Fred C. Wilson III
My painter of choice Caravaggio stands tall alongside Leonardo da Vinci, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Vincent van Gogh, Egon Schiele and Alphonse Maria Mucha other personal favorites.


All works, no matter what or by who painted, are nothing but bagatelles and childish trifles …unless they are made and painted from life, and life, and there can be nothing…better than to follow nature.

The Background:
World famous or infamous depending how you view the man, the ‘other Michelangelo’ was born Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio on September 29, 1571. It was an era when Europe and much of the world was a total mess. The Protestant Reformation, it's counterpart the Catholic Reformation and the issue of Black slavery was gathering up steam. Europe and the Arab states were busy enslaving Black Africans. These greedy imperialists created the race problems we have today as they engaged in the nefarious practice of empire building conquering, then enslaving less technologically advanced nations. Spears and clubs are no match for guns and cannons. The once all powerful gold laden Black empires (Ghana, Mali, Songhai-838-1600 AD) were in their death throes after their 800 year run.

Elsewhere the turbulent 16th century the Muslims was taking advantage of the further splintering of the Christian Church by launching their ill fated naval attack against the Catholic-Christian fleet at Lapanto. Suleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman Sultan at the time formed an allegiance with Martin Luther and other reformers. Luther urged fellow Protestants to link up with Islam for a number of theological reasons.  

The Reformer went so far as to encourage the Ottoman’s to “come and rule Germany…” Perhaps this was a reason why the Ottoman and German Empires partnered up during World War I. During the Second World War the Turks got wise and refused Hitler’s offer to ally themselves with Germany a second time though there were large numbers of Muslims who volunteered for service as SS men in rooting out Jews, the Roma peoples and other ‘undesirable’ elements in Nazi occupied countries. Little did those early reformers know that 500 years later their desires would be actualized in Angela Merkel’s Germany vis-a-vis the hordes of Islamic refugees pouring into Germany eventually fanning out through the rest of Europe (Source: ‘The Ottoman Empire and early modern Europe’ by Daniel Goffman Cambridge University, Press, 2002, p.110).

Also during Carravago’s life time the natural sciences along with humanist philosophies were advancing on the European continent. The Japanese were eagerly boiling Christians in oil and other unsavory substances thus effectively erasing Christianity from Japan and sealing itself off from the rest of the world. The Spanish, Dutch, the Portuguese and later the English and Belgians were in the process of empire building, exploiting low tech countries. Hero-scientist Johannes Kepler formulated his Laws of Planetary Motion. Italian astronomer, physicist, engineer and philosopher Galileo Galilei barely escaped being barbequed by the Inquisition. The St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre was preparing the Western world for the 30 Years War.

Caravaggio's Bacchus My painter of choice Caravaggio stands tall alongside Leonardo da Vinci, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Vincent van Gogh, Egon Schiele and Alphonse Maria Mucha other personal favorites. As a practicing artist I can readily appreciate the enormous contributions to the art world this temperamental genius gave us. He changed the whole concept of painting. Caravaggio took art out from the clouds to the streets and into the minds of ordinary people.

He made painting come alive. His stark realism still challenges us today. His art will be with us for the foreseeable future and well beyond. His paintings depict historical and Biblical events in contemporary settings. Seeing Biblical and classical heroes in contemporary attire drew viewers into his canvases. It’s though his subjects are looking directly into the center of their souls.  

Whenever I look at a Caravaggio I get a strong sense of being part of the drama. I enter the majesty of his art. Caravaggio make his gallery goers part of his work. He makes us one with his art. We are willing participants’ not mere watchers. We are actively involved in life through his work. Caravaggio rightly believed, in my opinion that art and larger life are participatory ‘sports.’ We must immerse ourselves in art and life to be fully human. It was as though he pulled the rug right out from under our feet forcing us to step in to the vortex of his dark art; we are make to feel the awful isolation he must have felt. The painter cuts us off from the mediocrity of mainstream reality a place where people never live but only exist. Caravaggio enables us to enter into his isolation his aloneness and he never lets us go.    

Like many driven people Caravaggio, Beethoven, Ty Cobb all suffered from terrible tempers driven by ruthless ambition. Traumatic childhoods were probable culprits. At the risk of sounding politically incorrect maybe it was his hot Mediterranean blood that gave him an acerbic wit, a hair-trigger temperament with an attendant overly-romantic disposition in matters of the heart. A suspected pederast the great man had many lovers of both sexes.

He used to frequent bordellos where he recruited subjects much to the displeasure of church authorities. He wanted ‘real people’ as his models and he got them. His was the ability to visibly shock his viewers. Carravaggio’s use of light and dark (churriscuro) produced dramatic effects on canvas. His bold use of color guaranteed to get viewer’s attentions.   

The making of art is akin to playing sports; everybody can learn but hard work and personal sacrifice are essential to artistic and athletic development. To acquire skills needed to successfully pursue an art career can be compared to being able to master the ability to pitch a fastball or perfecting the ability to send one into the center field bleachers. Professional ability is achieved and honed only through sacrifice, hard work, enthusiasm and dedication.  Caravaggio had a surplus of all four. Talent helps but unnecessary.

The painter was privileged to have studied under world class teachers. Having great instructors can be of an enormous help. I’m no Picasso (not even close) I had the rare privilege of studying under the tutelage of one of the ‘great ones.’ American art giant Seymour Rosofsky (1924-1981) ‘was one of a generation of strong post war independent-minded Chicago artists who bucked the trends of abstraction…’ ( He was my teacher when I was just getting started. I remember the first time I sat in his class. It was my first attempt at serious art. I was nervous, scared. Any self-confidence I had died at the classroom door. Professor Rosofsky if I remember correctly asked our class to make a sample drawing; mine was horrible. Seeing what passed for my interpretation of art compared with more than a few of my fellow students made me want to pack it in and never return to his or anybody else’s art class. Professor Rosofsky was a patient man though he could lay it on if needed. He showed extraordinary patience with me. He worked with me and urged me to not throw in the towel. Reluctantly took his advice; I stayed in his class. Then it all came together. By the end of the semester I had cranked out so much quality art that the other students were asking me for the stuff I considered tossing! This great man lit a fire under me that has never burned out! As the decades progressed I became an awarding winning artist (ceramics) and an art teacher. Take a look. I can fully emphasize with Caravaggio that great teachers can make or break any aspiring career be it art of any other discipline.     

Caravaggio was fortunate to have trained as an apprentice painter under Simone Peterzano who himself trained under Renaissance great Titian.  With expert tutelage, more than average talent and a strong work ethic there was no stopping Caravaggio except his own disordered lifestyle.

Like the modern stock market, after the Roman Catholic Church reached an all time high in 1500 Church membership sharply declined when the bottom fell out in 1517, when over half of Europe, the part that ‘counted’ anyway (scientists, bankers, rich countries, financers) defected by the millions. The Reformation reduced Catholicism to the status of being just another Christian sect one among many divergent Christian denominations. The last thing the Church needed was another rebel in it’s midst. Carravaggio was an inconvenience. Engaged in their own struggles to survive the powers that were had little toleration towards rebels and others of that ilk.  

Caravaggio Among the many reforms in Catholicism at the time was a new way art and artists were perceived by rich patrons and the viewing public. Mannerism was the official style of liturgical art. It emphasized technique and idealized formality over subject meaning. Through the centuries the naturalism in art was somehow buried by arcane and rigid rules that suppressed the real in favor of fantasy. Caravaggio was at the right place at the right time to initiate change. His art was the ‘medicine’ needed to rejuvenate his stagnate society. His style of art turned the art world on its’ head. A man of his times the game changing painter was the embodiment of the new; he was the future.

Caravaggio was a wild man! He turned barroom brawling, ‘whore chasing’ and knife fighting into dark arts. The man loved to fight! A dirty fighter by nature he had the uncanny habit of literally stabbing his opponents in their backs. He made a lot of enemies so many that the Pope Paul V issued what amounted to an SOS shoot-on-sight order. The pope offered a fat reward to anybody brave (or stupid) enough to serve the artist’s execution order. The painter killed a man in fight. The pope wanted his head.

A lot of ladies (and men) saw the violent painter as a romantic figure in the same vein as modern day gangsters and serial killers who though incarcerated receive thousands of love letters and marriage proposals in spite of their dirty deeds. Points—Charles Manson regularly receives thousands of love letters/marriage proposals from beautiful women around the world. Perversity and sexual pleasure oft times go hand-in-glove.  

Years ago when I taught school it was always the gangbangers who were the schools best artists. When they weren’t suspended, absent from school, selling guns in school, trysting in abandoned rooms in the school’s cavernous basement, creating havoc or serving detention, it was the malcontents who repeatedly won district art fairs and received scholarships to attend classes at Chicago’s prestigious Art Institute. I had one student who received (and made good) a tuition free Fine Art scholarship to attend the University of Hawaii in Honolulu! I’m not saying that all artists are sociopaths, but large percentages of great (and not so great) artists are. Point—Adolf Hitler was well versed in many artistic mediums. Though he flunked the entrance exams at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, school officials suggested that he study architecture at the Academy’s School of Architecture where Hitler’s true talent lay. He only had to return to high school to finish off where he left before he dropped out. He refused and the rest is history. At auctions Hitler’s works are selling for thousands of dollars; most regrettable when you think about it; a artist who turned out to have been the worst human being who ever lived.

I recently read several internet articles that opined that classroom ‘discipline problems’ usually grow up to be high achievers in business, finance and in other chosen endeavors. This analogy may explain why Italian artist Caravaggio was a first class hell raiser.

Art is universal. Every country has its local greats. Great art may be viewed on line, the walls of bars, television, in restaurants, billboards, museums and books. Unlike travel art aficionados need not venture to far off places. Caravaggio can be viewed and studied as easy as pressing keys on a computer and all for free. Type in Caravaggio and lo and behold you now have hundreds of viewer sites to peer into the life and times of the great man and his devoted disciple Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1656) a great artist in her own right; shared her idol’s physical attractiveness and independent disposition. Her paintings were bolder and bloodier than her contemporary Caravaggio.

So exactly how did the great one crank out masterpiece after masterpiece? For answers please investigate these You Tube tutorials on Caravaggio this remarkable artist this unusual man:  

1. How to paint a Caravaggio head in 5 minutes

2. Caravaggio-the complete works

3. Tutorial Painter Caravaggio  

4. Caravaggio

5. Caravaggio’s Secrets

Aforementioned earlier Caravaggio wasn’t the only pebble on the beach. There were other artistic greats all contemporaries of the late Baroque master (Type in: Baroque painters); God bless.       

© Fred C Wilson 111 March 2016

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