Four Followers of Caravaggio

It is a well known adage that imitation is thought to be the highest form of flattery. Hence, it is not surprising nor uncommon for ardent flatterers and followers to emulate the works of masters throughout their own careers.

Consider The Lute Player, (above) for example, painted sometime between 1612 to 1620. Based on Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio’s painting of the same name (below), done earlier in 1596, it was widely accepted by many critics in the 18th and 19th centuries that due to the overt stylistic similarities between the two works, both were created by the famed Caravaggio, who had earned great notoriety for his revolutionary style and his unconventional process of painting directly from live models.

However, more recent scholarship secures the painting at top within the corpus of the considerably older artist, Orazio Gentileschi, a close associate of Caravaggio’s and one of the leading Caravaggisti in the second decade of the 17th century, who managed to mix key aspects of Caravaggio’s style with his own signature elements.

Gentileschi, one of four painters in Rome at the time, who assimilated Caravaggio’s style in their own distinct ways is one of the featured artists in the current exhibit, Four Followers of Caravaggio at The Art Institute of Chicago running through May 31.


Four Followers of Caravaggio
Paintings: Bottom, Caravaggio, The Lute Player (1596), Metropolitan Museum of Art
Paintings: Top, Orazio Gentileschi. The Lute Player, (1612/1620). National Gallery of Art



Caraggio, painted by Ottavio Leoni, c. 1621 A.C.


As colorful and captivating as the masterpieces he created, so was the man himself. Caravaggio burst upon the Rome art scene in 1600 with the success of his first public commissions, the Martyrdom of Saint Matthew and Calling of Saint Matthew. Thereafter he never lacked for commissions or patrons, yet, like the temperamentally tormented genius he was, he handled his success atrociously.

He was notorious for brawling, even in a time and place when such behavior was commonplace, and the transcripts of his police records and trial proceedings fill several pages. An early published notice on him, dating from 1604 and describing his lifestyle three years previously, tells how “after a fortnight’s work he will swagger about for a month or two with a sword at his side and a servant following him, from one ball-court to the next, ever ready to engage in a fight or an argument, so that it is most awkward to get along with him.” Indeed.

In 1606, he is known to have killed a young man in a brawl and fled from Rome with a price on his head. In Malta in 1608, another brawl ensued, and yet another the following year in Naples, possibly a deliberate attempt on his life by unidentified enemies, which one could safely assume, were many. By the next year, after a relatively brief career and a tumultuous life, he was dead at thirty-nine years of age, amid much confusion and conjecture as to the causes of death.

Famous (and notorious) while he lived, Caravaggio was forgotten almost immediately after his death, and it was only in the 20th century that his importance to the development of Western art was rediscovered.


Biography of Caravaggio




~ by eaesthete on 01/30/10.

5 Responses to “Four Followers of Caravaggio”

  1. So many artists with misbegotten, mis-spent lives. I used to think it was a pre-requisite for being an artist of any genre. Now I just think it makes for an interesting movie.

    Love the feminine version of “The Lute Player” because of her face and the red drape.

  2. There are so many who hand their success atrociously! Nowadays, the only price on their heads are the fees arranged with their publicists. Beautiful paintings and drawing.

  3. We are lucky to have Caravaggio’s St. John the Baptist at the Nelson-Atkins. Always a magical moment to approach this work and see all of the amazing details. The light and shadows, the beautiful folds.

    Creative genius and mental illness are often intertwined. If not in the same person, often in the same gene pool. A creative person who is not mentally ill has “filters.” The mentally ill do not. It is easy for use to judge how people so mislead their lives. Life is difficult, but we are most fortunate that art often remains behind.

  4. ..I always imagined the errant aesthete playing some type of stringed instrument: the violin, the lute. Does she? I’ve enjoyed looking at your site for the past year or so. But have never replied. This is my first time. Do keep up the beautiful work.

    • Mary,

      Thank you for introducing yourself. I’m always thrilled to learn of those who read and follow in silence. As to your question – I love stringed instruments, particularly the violin and cello, but alas, I am not gifted with playing.

      My gratitude for your kind words and enduring interest.

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