Around the world in 10 Caravaggio paintings

Around the world in 10 Caravaggio paintings

The Italian painter’s masterpieces are displayed across the globe. Here’s a look at ten Caravaggio paintings around the world.

Caravaggio is one of the most controversial artists in history. He was said to have been a hothead with libertine habits: he frequented taverns, enjoyed the company of prostitutes–some of whom posed for his paintings–, and got mixed up with a crowd of dubious gentlemen, one of whom he killed during a brawl. As a result, he fled Rome to avoid the death penalty.

After his tragic death, a damnatio memoriae of sorts took place, rendering his paintings forgotten until the twentieth century. Today, Caravaggio is rightly remembered as a master of Italian art. His style and interpretation of the chiaroscuro technique became indispensable for future painters, completely revolutionizing art history. In addition to the numerous temporary exhibitions in his honor, his works are scattered throughout the world.  Here are ten of his masterpieces and where to find them.

1. Basket of Fruit, 1594-1598

You can admire this famous still life at the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana in Milan. The painting portrays a basket of autumn fruit that symbolizes the transience of human existence. The colorful and inviting fruit will soon begin to dry up and then rot. Fun fact: this Caravaggio work was on the 100,000 lire note for four years.

2. Bacchus, 1596-1597

Bewitching and sensual, Bacchus is a young man (Caravaggio himself, or the painter’s friend Mario Minniti) who looks a little bit tipsy, a fitting state for the god of wine. Traditionally, Bacchus is represented naked. However, Caravaggio’s Bacchus sits on what is most likely a Roman chaise lounge wearing a tunic. His muscles glow,  his face is rosy from the wine, and he has a loose grip on his glass. Where: Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

3. Medusa, 1597

Florence’s Uffizi houses another one of Caravaggio’s most famous–and perhaps one of his most disturbing–paintings: the head of Medusa. Medusa was a gorgon, a mythological creature whose had living snakes on her head instead of hair, and anyone who looked into her eyes turned to stone. Caravaggio portrays her in a grimace of pain and disappointment after having lost her head to Perseus.

4. David and Goliath, 1597-1598

You’ll find one of Caravaggio’s three paintings dedicated to the biblical victory of David over Goliath at the Prado Museum in Madrid. In this work, Caravaggio depicted David as a child, while Goliath’s face is a self-portrait (as it is in the other versions).

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5. Supper at Emmaus, 1601-1602

Caravaggio painted this famed New Testament scene several times, and one of his versions is at the National Gallery in London. It depicts the moment when the grief-stricken disciples recognize Jesus, who had been dining with them incognito.

6. The Beheading of St John the Baptist, 1608

The Compagnia della Misericordia commissioned this painting. In fact, the dagger depicted belonged to this order. The scene is harrowing and ruthless, and the empty space accentuates its impact. Interesting detail: Caravaggio signed it in the same shade of red as the blood that spills from the head of John the Baptist.  Where: St. John’s Co-Cathedral of Valletta, the capital of Malta.

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7. John the Baptist, 1604

The Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, Missouri houses another St John the Baptist work. Here the pensive saint wears garb that’s different than what he’s usually portrayed in.  Caravaggio drew inspiration from the Belvedere Torso which is located in the Vatican Museums. This sculpture also inspired Michelangelo when he found himself painting the torso of Jesus in the Last Judgement.  

8. The Denial of St. Peter, 1609-1610

The MET in New York boasts one of the world’s richest art collections so it most certainly wouldn’t be complete without a Caravaggio. The museum is home to the Denial of St. Peter, a highly dramatic biblical moment, and one of the artist’s last works.

9. Martha and Mary Magdalene, 1598

Mary Magdalene and her sister Marta are portrayed in an intense conversation: Marta is trying to bring Mary Magdalene back from her wayward path. The two subjects have the faces of Anna Bianchini (Marta) and Fillide Melandroni (La Maddalena), one of Caravaggio’s favorite models and most likely his lover. Where: Detroit Institute of the Arts.

10. Penitent Magdalene, Sick Bacchus and more in Rome

Rome happens to be home to the greatest number of Caravaggio works. At the Borghese Gallery, you’ll find David with the head of Goliath (1609-1610), St Jerome Writing (1605), Madonna and Child with St. Anne (1605), the famous Young Sick Bacchus (1593-1594) and Boy with a Basket of Fruit (1593-1594). Penitent Magdalene (1594-1595), among others, is at the Doria Pamphilj Gallery while Judith Beheading Holofernes (1599) is located at the National Gallery of Ancient Art. Some of the most beautiful churches in Rome also contain works by Caravaggio that you can see for free! The Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo is home to the Crucifixion of St. Peter (1600-1601) and the Conversion of St. Paul (1600-1601). You can also find works by the master at San Luigi dei Francesi and the Basilica of Sant’Agostino, while the Vatican Museums are home to The Entombment of Christ (1602-1604).

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