NGV National Gallery of Victoria

The rise of the Caravaggisti

Orazio Gentileschi
Italian 1563–1639, worked in England 1626–39
Saint Francis supported by an angel (San Francesco sorretto da un angelo) c.1605–07
oil on canvas
126.0 x 98.0 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid (P03122)
Spanish Royal Collection
Along with the Carracci, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio from Milan, was most instrumental in introducing realism to Italian painting. Caravaggio closely recorded models posed in his studio that were usually lit from a single light source. This created the strong chiaroscuro and dramatic shadowing that he rendered with unprecedented illusionism.

His paintings of an exotic and dangerous urban underclass proved irresistible to a whole movement of artists known as the Caravaggisti. At the turn of the sixteenth century Caravaggio was active in Rome, where he gained many followers. Among them was Orazio Gentileschi, who trained in an earlier tradition yet transformed his technique under the influence of Caravaggio. Cecco del Caravaggio also adopted Caravaggesque realism (depicting saints with dirty feet, for example), as well as the use of sharp raking light, deep shadows and the sculptural treatment of figures.

In 1606, Caravaggio killed a man in Rome, whereupon he fled to the Spanish-ruled city of Naples. He soon gained patronage there and attracted a strong following among fellow artists and his work subsequently affected the next generation of Neapolitan artists. These included the Spaniard Jusepe de Ribera who had settled in Naples in 1616. Ribera was drawn to Caravaggio’s rugged naturalism and dramatic use of lighting which he employed to great effect in the many church altarpieces that he was asked to paint. Ribera also received commissions directly from Spain, thus his influence spread to his homeland. He subsequently taught and influenced a host of Italian artists, including Luca Giordano.