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Masterworks from Budapest. From the Renaissance to the Avant-Garde

From 18 February to 28 May 2017

Lucas Cranach, the Elder
Salome with the Head of Saint John the Baptist, ca. 1526-1530
Oil on panel. 88.4 x 58.3 cm
Budapest, Museum of Fine Arts

Biography and Works

Milán or Caravaggio, 1571-Porto Ercole, 1610


Michelangelo Merisi, known as Caravaggio, was the son of Fermo Merisi, who was in the service of Francesco Sforza Colonna. He trained with Simone Peterzano in Milan, where he is documented in 1584. In 1592 he was in Rome where he frequented the studio of the Cavaliere d’Arpino and that of Antiveduto Grammatica. In 1594 the artist met his first patron, Cardinal Del Monte, for whom he painted a number of works including The Head of Medusa (Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence) and The Fortune Teller (Pinacoteca Capitolina, Rome). Caravaggio’s first important commission was for the canvases on the life of Saint Matthew in the Contarelli chapel in San Luigi dei Francesci (1599–1600), followed by those for Santa Maria del Popolo (1600–1). The pronounced realism of these series and their use of an intense chiaroscuro made a profound impression on the Roman art world due to their highly innovative nature. During his time in Rome Caravaggio painted The Burial of Christ (Pinacoteca Vaticana), The Virgin of Loreto (church of Sant’Agostino), The Virgin of the Palafrenieri (Galleria Borghese) and The Death of the Virgin (Musée du Louvre, Paris). The artist worked for some of the most important patrons of the day including the Marquis Vincenzo Giustiniani, Cardinal Scipione Borghese, and the banker Ottavio Costa. However, many of his works were not well received and were rejected. In general Caravaggio was not held in high esteem, probably due to his supposed lack of decorum and his constant problems with the legal authorities. In 1606, following a serious incident, the artist was condemned to death. He fled from Rome and moved to Naples where his work made a profound impact. From then on Caravaggio lived as a fugitive from justice. In 1607 he is documented in Malta, where he was protected by Alof de Wignacourt, Grand Master of the Order of the Knights of Malta. While in Malta Caravaggio painted The Decapitation of Saint John the Baptist, which is his only signed work. He then moved to Sicily where he lived from 1608 to 1609 and painted The Raising of Lazarus in Messina and The Burial of Saint Lucy in Siracusa. In late 1609 Caravaggio returned to Naples where he died a few months later on the beach at Porto Ercole. Although he had no direct pupils, Caravaggio had numerous followers who disseminated his style throughout Italy and the rest of Europe. Echoes of his art can be detected in the work of Rembrandt and Velázquez.

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