1573-1610. Italian painter, celebrated teeth-gnashing madman, and Chiaroscuro Incarnate. The Goya of his time, and the most controversial artist of his time. Caravaggio broke with tradition and stopped idealizing his subject matter; if the scene would have likely involved blood, then, dammit, there'd be blood. He still painted only religious or mythological scenes, though. Then again, seeing Goliath, stone dead, neck broken, head laying at an impossible angle, may have scared people even more.

Caravaggio is the only pre-20th century artist that I've seen that had a vibrant black. When mixed with the crimsons he was so fond of, and the ultra-realistic portrayal, his paintings could almost seem alive. They were shocking back in their day. That is not to say that they lacked subtlety, however - Caravaggio's sense of proportion and composition is great, and his use of chiaroscuro-style lighting was flat-out revolutionary.

And, like Goya, his soul-mate, Caravaggio's painting style came from a deep-dark place - in this case, his fear and anger. You see, he wasn't your average upstanding young Italian; he assaulted several people over trivial matters, once killing a man for disputing a score during a tennis match. (McEnroe, eat your heart out.) Caravaggio did most of his later paintings while in hiding, awaiting a pardon from the Pope. His choice of blacks and reds, his insistence on 'keeping it real', the undercurrent of suffering and death in all of his paintings probably stems from this.

Caravaggio collapsed after a boat containing all of his worldly possesions had departed from the dock without him, and he died three days later.

Caravaggio was one hell of an artist.

Don't get me wrong, the man was a painter, and one of the best, at a time when the Church needed as much good, dramatic art as it could get to frighten the faithful. And Caravaggio delivered, with dramatic chiaroscuro and lighting, and a knack for rendering reality (and a philosophy that demanded rendering nature as it was, versus painting an ideal). His paintings were so good and so realistic that later scholars would look at plants and fruit he had painted and diagnose diseases from which the plant had suffered.

But then again, the man was also frankly a class A dickhead. In addition to killing people and buggering the young male relatives of the rich and influential, he liked to paint things that made people uncomfortable. One of his first works, Love the Conqueror, showed his very young muse (and night time companion, as some would have it) smiling as a cherub amongst a still life, with his legs splayed open, displaying his infantile genitalia. EVERY line in the painting pointed to his genitals, which were at the center of the work, so your eye would be constantly drawn to the item in question, rather uncomfortably.

When commissioned to paint the Madonna, he used the town's most recognizable whore as the model for the Immaculately conceived. A painting of the conversion of St. Paul destined for a church, that he knew would hang opposite one of his rivals' and would face the priest, literally had the hind quarters of a horse as the main part of the picture, taking up most of the canvas. And yet, his personal troubles and professional affronts were mostly excused or ignored, as his work had very real propaganda and artistic value. Noone could paint the severed head or the broken neck of Goliath quite like Caravaggio.

And yet, his luck was starting to run out. Joining the Knights of Malta as yet another ruse to keep him alive and away from the swords of his enemies, he was nevertheless bounced out in bad standing for some offense that none would document (and given that they DID document these things, it was HIGHLY likely that it involved some young knight).

He died shortly after. Noone is quite sure what actually happened. Caravaggio's life is poorly documented, what we know of it is mostly from court documents and the like. But we do know that he got on a ship one day and never arrived at his destination. There were stories and rumors of him being cast away on dry land, delirious and sick, refusing to travel any further by boat and necessitating a rapid return to land to relieve themselves of him. It's more likely that once he was at sea, there was nowhere left for him to run, and some enemy found him aboard that ship and a fanciful story was concocted to cover up a murder.

* New documents show that the man killed in a tennis match was actually killed over a dispute over a prostitute both men were in love with. Thomassoni, the man in question, was possibly her pimp, and Caravaggio was attempting to castrate the man in the fight, with lethal results - and this would have been consistent with the style of the day that inflicted an injury depending on the type of offense that spurred the fight.
Given that we know Caravaggio was homosexual, the evidence that he also desired women leads to a new conclusion - that he was actually both and could therefore pass as straight when required.

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