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Published on September 20th, 2017 | by Magda Michalska

Caravaggisti: Fans, Epigons, Masters?

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?

Caravaggio, Boy Bitten by a Lizard, 1593–1594, National Portrait Gallery, caravaggisti

Caravaggio, Boy Bitten by a Lizard, 1593–1594, National Portrait Gallery

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)
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

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.

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

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?

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

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.

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

Why?

Bacchus, Caravaggio, 1595, Uffizi Gallery Museum, Florence, 5 greatest baroque painters

Caravaggio, Bacchus, 1595, Uffizi Gallery Museum, Florence

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.

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)

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.

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

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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About the Author

Magda, an art historian-to-be, she writes about art because she cannot make it herself. She loves committed and political artists like Ai Wei Wei or the Futurists; like Joseph Beuys she believes that art can change us and we can change the world.



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