Caravaggio was not just a revolutionary artist of the late early 17th centuries – he is recognized as one of the most important, and consequential, painters in Italian history. During his brief but prolific life, Caravaggio left behind an incredible artistic legacy and influenced the world of art to this day: he introduced the chiaroscuro technique, creating impressive works that balance light and dark, and was beloved for the realism he transmitted in his paintings. While other leading painters of their time depicted gods, leaders and the privileged few, Caravaggio portrayed ordinary people – with all their human imperfections – in his works.
Caravaggio, whose real name was Michelangelo Merisi, was born in 1571 in the little town of Caravaggio near Milan and arrived in Rome in his early 20s. The Eternal City at that time was full of rich patrons investing in the arts and numerous urban projects in the city and Caravaggio’s ambitions and talents were quickly noticed by notable figures in the city. He was commissioned to create paintings to hang in family chapels and churches dotted throughout Rome and lent a unique vision to each piece.
Most painters of the time simply copied the works and styles of leading 15th century painters like Michelangelo and Raphael but Caravaggio sought to paint in a way that brought the reality of life into his works, and art closer to the people. Instead of keeping the focus on celestial beings and heroes, he painted religious figures modeled after people he knew in real life, including courtesans and purported love interests.
Caravaggio is also highly lauded for perfecting and elevating the chiaroscuro painting technique, which juxtaposes light with shadows in a painting for a cinematic effect. His works are extreme for their contrasts and help capture the passion, drama and humanism of his psyche and the way he saw the world. Caravaggio had a violent reputation and he was forced to flee his enemies for much of his life: he spent time in Rome, Naples, Sicily and Malta before dying in mysterious circumstances at the young age of 42. He left behind an incredibly rich and varied body of work in each place and a legacy that delights and surprises to this day.
I had the chance to join Roma Experience for a fabulous tour through some of the artist’s most notable works in Rome in their new tour “Restoring Caravaggio: A VIP Rome Tour Experience“, an informative and fascinating visit that sheds a light on Caravaggio’s life, his art and notably the restoration of his works. The tour begins in Piazza del Popolo and takes you on a walk through three beautiful churches in the historic center before culminating in a private visit to the acclaimed Merlini Storti Restoration Studio.
This acclaimed studio has been restoring classical and contemporary works of art for the past 30 years, including paintings, sculptures, canvases, tables and more by artists including Caravaggio, Raphael and Tintoretto. Run by Valeria Merlini and Daniela Storti, it is a place that inspires reverence and transmits a deep passion for the work at hand: painstakingly restoring works of art to give them a new life and preserve them for future generations. Merlini Storti is committed to supporting Italy’s artistic heritage, not only through its preservation, but through education and access – hence the enthusiasm to host visitors into their work space so anyone can learn what it takes to salvage priceless works of art.
Merlini Storti is also a pioneer in the field and held first public art restoration in Italy in 1999 when restorers cleaned Michelangelo’s Madonna di Loreto inside the Basilica di Sant’Agostino in Rome. Scaffolding was built in the chapel and restorers worked on the piece in situ while spectators could look on and admire the painting. It’s rare for non-professionals to be privy to an art restoration of this magnitude so this provided a unique opportunity for the public to get to understand the technicalities of artistic conservation, ask questions to professionals and learn about the whole process from start to finish.
Where To Find Caravaggio’s Art In Rome
- Santa Maria del Popolo: The Conversion of St. Paul, The Crucifixion of St. Peter
- Chiesa di Sant’Agostino: Madonna di Loreto
- San Luigi dei Francesi: The Calling of St. Matthew, The Martyrdom of St. Matthew, St. Matthew and the Angel
- Galleria Borghese: Madonna of the Serpent, Young Bacchus, Saint Jerome, Boy with a Basket of Fruit, David with the Head of Goliath, John the Baptist, Portrait of Pope Paul V
- Capitoline Museums: The Fortune Teller, John the Baptist
- Galleria Doria Pamphilj: Repentant Mary Magdalene, Rest on the Flight into Egypt, Young St. John the Baptist
- Palazzo Barberini: Narcissus, Judith beheading Holofernes, St. Francis in Meditation
- Vatican Museums: Deposition from the Cross
- Palazzo Corsini: St. John the Baptist
Restoring Caravaggio: VIP Rome Tour