Brush in the Hand,
Blood on the Knife

Caravaggio's life was nothing short of tumultuous, marked by a notoriety that transcended the common brawling tendencies of his era. In an age when such behavior was par for the course, Caravaggio stood out, his police records and trial proceedings spanning several pages. The pinnacle of his notoriety occurred on 29 May 1606 when, possibly unintentionally, he took the life of Ranuccio Tomassoni, a young man from Terni (Umbria). The circumstances surrounding this fatal brawl remain shrouded in mystery, with contemporary accounts suggesting a quarrel over a gambling debt and a tennis game—an explanation that has solidified in the annals of popular imagination.

Caravaggio's artistic legacy, however, is equally as tumultuous and enigmatic as his personal life. His pioneering use of tenebrism, a heightened chiaroscuro technique, infused his subjects with a level of high drama previously unseen. Concurrently, his keenly observed realism brought forth a newfound emotional intensity in art. Among Caravaggio's contemporaries, opinions were sharply divided. While some denounced him for perceived shortcomings, notably his insistence on painting directly from life without preliminary drawings, others hailed him as a visionary. He became the subject of admiration, particularly among younger artists who saw him as a unique imitator of nature, with his work being perceived as nothing short of miraculous.

What set Caravaggio apart was his rejection of the idealized depictions prevalent in his time. Rather than portraying subjects as flawless, idealized creations, he chose to present them as the eye sees them—with all their natural flaws and defects. This departure from the norm allowed Caravaggio to showcase his virtuosic talents. His commitment to realism and the rejection of classical idealism, epitomized by the methods of Michelangelo, stirred controversy. Painting directly from life in oils, eschewing the traditional lengthy preparations of central Italy, he embraced the Venetian approach, focusing on half-length figures and still life.

Caravaggio's artistic revolution challenged conventions and left an indelible mark on the art world. His tumultuous life, marked by brawls and controversy, mirrored the intensity and drama he infused into his masterpieces.