Baroque and Beyond C. 1600–1850

Baroque Italy and France

Who was Caravaggio?

Michelangelo Merisi (1571–1610), better known as Caravaggio, was a complicated artist. He never had a workshop or any apprentices, and seemed more comfortable in the dark alleys of Rome than in the grand churches and palaces of his high status patrons. Prone to violence, Caravaggio frequently ran into trouble with the law. In 1606, he killed a man in a street fight, prompting the Pope to issue a warrant for his death. He was, however, one of the greatest naturalist painters in history, and his powerfully realistic paintings promoted Christian themes of redemption and salvation.

Caravaggio was also a skilled still life painter. One of his most notable still lifes is Basket of Fruit (1597). Against a yellow background, a wicker basket filled with aging fruits and leaves sits on a window ledge. The purple grapes are starting to turn a moldy gray color. Green leaves are wilting; some are covered in brown spots. A red and yellow apple is browning around two apparent wormholes. The former sheen and health of this fruit is apparent, but only a slight tinge of life remains. The basket of fruit is so close to the picture plane that it is almost confrontational, forcing the viewer to notice the passing of time. The painting has been interpreted as symbolic of the fleetingness of youth and beauty.


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