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The Supper at Emmaus
Photo credit: The National Gallery, London

The Supper at Emmaus 1601

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571–1610)

The National Gallery, London

(Baptised Milan. 30 September 1571; died Port’ Ercole, 18 July 1610). The most powerful, original and influential Italian painter of the 17th century. Although his career was brief (he was only 38 when he died) and his output was fairly small (there are about 70 surviving pictures by him), he had an immense impact on his contemporaries, creating a bold and naturalistic style that broke decisively with the prevailing vapid Mannerism and inspired a host of imitators. His baptismal record, discovered in 2007, indicates that he was born in Milan, but he grew up in Caravaggio, near Bergamo, and takes his name from the town. From 1584 to about 1588 he served an apprenticeship in Milan under the undistinguished painter Simone Peterzano (c.1540–c.1596) and by about 1592 he had moved to Rome, which was to be the main centre of his activity. His career there is not firmly documented until 1599 and in his early years he is said to have endured hardship, taking on whatever hackwork he could to scrape a living. He progressed to assisting Giuseppe Cesari, then to independent work, and in the mid-1590s a dealer sold some of his pictures to Cardinal Francesco del Monte, who became his first important patron (Caravaggio was a paid retainer in his household for about three years, c.1597–1600).

Text source: The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists (Oxford University Press)


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