Art History 101

Caravaggisti: Fans, Epigons, Masters?

Magda Michalska 20 September 2017 min Read

Caravaggio made an impact on painting already in his times. Probably because he behaved in defiance of all norms of the Church which was his biggest patron and commissioner. What a character he was... We could crown him a drama king, and a trendsetter, too! Especially because his style, so innovative, original and dramatic, influenced crowds of painters across Europe. Today is their day, meet Caravaggisti, people inspired by Caravaggio's pioneering style.

Where? Who?

[caption id="attachment_9741" align="alignnone" width="762"]Caravaggio, Boy Bitten by a Lizard, 1593–1594, National Portrait Gallery Caravaggio, Boy Bitten by a Lizard, 1593–1594, National Portrait Gallery[/caption] We can find Caravaggisti in
  • Italy, like the Roman studio of Bartolomeo Manfredi (1582-1622), Orazio (1563-1639) and Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1652/3), Giovanni Battista Caracciolo (or Battistello, 1578-1635);
  • the Netherlands and the 'Utrecht' school: Hendrick ter Brugghen (1588-1629), Gerrit van Honthorst (1592-1656), Dirck van Baburen (1594/5-1624);
  • French Caravaggisti: Simon Vouet (1590-1649), Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632), Georges de La Tour (1593-1653)
  • Spanish Caravaggisti: José (or Jusepe) de Ribera (1591-1652)
[caption id="attachment_6486" align="aligncenter" width="598"]Dirck van Baburen (Utrecht/Dutch), Young Man Playing a Jew’s Harp, 1621, Utrecht, Centraal Museum Dirck van Baburen (Utrecht/Dutch), Young Man Playing a Jew’s Harp, 1621, Utrecht, Centraal Museum[/caption] Many of the non-Italian Caravaggisti spent time in Rome yet Caravaggio’s influence on these artists was mostly indirect, i.e. through artists studying his work.  Dirck van Baburen spent several years in Rome, returning to Utrecht in 1622. Among his Italian patrons were the Marchese Vincenzo Giustiniani and Cardinal Scipione Borghese. [caption id="attachment_6492" align="aligncenter" width="620"]Hendrick ter Brugghen (Utrecht/Dutch), The Concert 1626-27, London, National Gallery, caravaggisti Hendrick ter Brugghen (Utrecht/Dutch), The Concert 1626-27, London, National Gallery[/caption] Hendrick ter Brugghen spent several years in Italy, arriving in Rome perhaps as early as 1606 and returning to Utrecht around 1615. Ter Brugghen's Dutch contemporaries would have found this a very exotic painting, although it was painted long after painter's return from Italy. The painting combines several Italianate characteristics, such as the dress of the figures and the bowl of grapes, and the tenebrism is typically Caravaggesque and suggestive, yet, unlike Caravaggio, Northern Caravaggisti liked to show the light source - can you spot the two light sources in here? [caption id="attachment_6489" align="aligncenter" width="606"]Caravaggio, David with the Head of Goliath, (c.1610, Rome, Galleria Borghese, caravaggisti Caravaggio, David with the Head of Goliath, (c.1610, Rome, Galleria Borghese[/caption] Caravaggism was particularly strong in the first three decades of the 17th century, but it would continue to influence European artists more loosely throughout the century, including Rubens, Rembrandt and Vermeer. The Caravaggisti painted genre, allegory and religious subjects. [caption id="attachment_6487" align="aligncenter" width="620"]Simon Vouet (French), David with the Head of Goliath, 1620-22, Genoa, Musei di Strada Nuova Simon Vouet (French), David with the Head of Goliath, 1620-22, Genoa, Musei di Strada Nuova[/caption]

Why?

[caption id="attachment_6258" align="aligncenter" width="609"]Bacchus, Caravaggio, 1595, Uffizi Gallery Museum, Florence, 5 greatest baroque painters Caravaggio, Bacchus, 1595, Uffizi Gallery Museum, Florence[/caption] Characteristics of Caravaggio’s work include naturalism, a focus on the human protagonist(s), often little attention to the setting, chiaroscuro/tenebrism, and drama (and often movement). He never established any school or workshop, which might have motivated so many painters to try to follow in his footsteps: there was nobody officially appointed to continue his legacy, so everyone wanted to do this. [caption id="attachment_6488" align="aligncenter" width="620"]Bartolomeo Manfredi (Italian), Bacchus and a Drinker, 1600-10, Rome, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica Bartolomeo Manfredi (Italian), Bacchus and a Drinker, 1600-10, Rome, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica (Barberini Corsini)[/caption] Manfredi was known as Caravaggio’s closest follower, but his work was later often confused with that of Caravaggio himself. In this genre scene Manfredi combines the mythological figure of the wine god Bacchus with an eager drinker in contemporary dress, using chiaroscuro to highlight the naked right arm and torso of Bacchus. Like Caravaggio, he leaves the background and setting nondescript. [caption id="attachment_6493" align="aligncenter" width="620"]Jusepe de Ribera (Spanish, 1591-1652), Drunken Silenus, 1626,Naples, Museo e Gallerie Nazionali di Capodimonte Jusepe de Ribera (Spanish, 1591-1652), Drunken Silenus, 1626,Naples, Museo e Gallerie Nazionali di Capodimonte[/caption] Can we consider Caravaggisti original painters? Were they pioneers of Baroque drama in their countries, or rather simple epigons who tried to copy the master? What do you think?

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