Portrait of Fra Antonio Martelli Caravaggio Buy Art Prints Now
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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 October 14, 2023
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Fra Antonio Martelli, a distinguished veteran of the Great Siege and Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Malta, stands out as one of the most famous of portraits of a Knight of Malta, and excellent work by the illustrious Caravaggio painted around 1607 during his time in Malta.

This painting gives birth to a sense of introspection, as Martelli gazes into the dark; his eyes, conveying a sense of wonder and reflection, lost in thought and contemplation. His left-hand rests softly upon his sword, while the right hand gallantly holds his rosary beads. The portrait depicts one of the grand knights who in 1565; efficaciously defended the island of Malta from a much larger Ottoman Army. Caravaggio is a master at introspective realism. His work combines a realistic reflection of the human state; from physical to a much denser emotional state, brought to life through the dramatic use lighting which encapsulates crucial moments, tonations, and scenes. By darkening shadows and transfixing the theme of the portrait in bright shafts of light, often depicting struggles and contemplation.

Caravaggio baptised Michelangelo Merisi was born in Milan, Italy; on 29th September 1571, to Lucia Aratori and Fermo Merixio. In 1576, A plague left him fatherless, and his mother also unfortunately passed shortly afterwards (in 1584), leaving him orphaned at quite the tender age. After this, probably due to his innate interest in painting, Caravaggio shifted to Milan, where he successively became an apprentice under the renowned Simone Peterzano. He then progressively worked with many other varied painters but finally upon realisation dawning on him decided to work independently thereof. During the 1590's, Caravaggio made lots of paints which had themes featuring daily life but were not much in tune with the spiritual themes that were prevalent during that period. This included The Fortune Teller, Boy with a Fruit Basket, The Cardsharps, The Music Party, and The Young Bacchus. It was during this time that he sold his paintings to a trader named Maestro Valentino, who subsequently made his art come to the notice of Cardinal Francesco Del Monte.

The Cardinal progressively grew to become quite the admirer of his art and very well let him stay at his house, and not only provided Caravaggio with art supplies, but also granted him some allowances too. In 1596, Caravaggio painted the famous Basket of Fruit, distinct and lifelike echoing his realism style of painting. A milestone to his painting career was in 1597 when Caravaggio got the grand opportunity to decorate the Contarelli Chapel, where he made the lifelike images of St Matthew's life cycle, vividly capturing and manifesting his realism touch in art design. The many more paintings Caravaggio made for the chapel, also subsequently got him into quite the controversy, and at the same time earning him popularity all through. It was in 1607 during his visit to Malta that he made Portrait of Fra Antonio Martelli amongst other paintings. Caravaggio is credited with making a drift to a more realistic approach from the much too common spiritual perspective in painting. He indeed is accredited as the pioneer of the Realism style in painting, which subsequently replaced the much too predominant mannerism style of painting at that time.