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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on January 8, 2024
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The paintings of Caravaggio rank amongst the most influential of any artist in history, revolutionising pictorial content and lifting naturalism to a new level.

Evolution as an artist

Caravaggio's style would develop from an early emphasis on genre scenes and still-lifes towards an extravagent series of large-scale paintings where the artist felt as if he had been set free. The development of Caravaggio's personality was directly reflected in his work, ending with a darkness and aggression which underlined his own personal issues as he continued to be pursued by authorities across Europe.

Incredible Accuracy

Caravaggio's level of realism shocked many in the art world, who were not ready for the realities of life being accurately captured on the canvas. Various quotes on Caravaggio underline how many still preferred masters to capture idealistic scenes.

Dramatic Lighting

The aggressive, stark use of lighting will remind many of the paintings of Rembrandt, whilst the skillful, revolutionary techniques made a similar impact to the rise of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. Essentially, this was the next stage of artistic development after the High Renaissance. Chiaroscuro is the Italian term used by many to describe the use of light by Caravaggio in his paintings.

The word is constructed from the contrast of light (chiar) and dark (oscuro). It is likely that the groundbreaking naturalism which was characteristic of Caravaggio's work was a result of his training as a young artist in the Lombardy region in Italy. This is one of the more likely explanations of an artist who left so few clues around his artistic development.

Innovative Compositions

A key attribute of Caravaggio's style was to draw the viewer into the painting as another part of the scene. In Supper at Emmaus he allows one of the subjects to lean towards the viewer, drawing them into the artwork on the other side of the table. Whatever the views of critics at the time, Caravaggio's paintings are known to have inspired masters such as Rubens, Velazquez and Rembrandt.