Caravaggio: Painting Mythological Scenes and Themes With Knife-edged Contours

For the artists of sixteenth and seventeenth centuries of Europe there were rules to follow; there were commandments to obey; and there were likes and dislikes of orthodox rulers and the fearful buyers of the art. But one eccentric artist decided to play against all of the rules and commandments.

Supper at Emmaus

He created a crowd of controversies by the themes and style of painting he practiced. Even his using the prostitutes as models for the paintings of religious figures was met with committed discomfort. But he would not heed to all of adversaries. His name was Caravaggio, an Italian artist. If you feel shocked by seeing the lighting depicted on a canvas, it must be Caravaggio's painting.

It is not necessary for an artist to behave strangely than the normal people. There a few artists who are quite normal and behaved like tamed cows. But Caravanggio, son of an architect, was an ‘out of the ordinary’ material; he belonged to the majority of those artists who were used to put the cross on their shoulders and walk on the path they carved themselves. In short, he was a faithful rebel. And the colour of rebel has percolated into his blood up to the extent that he became famous for his art of creating enemies, too. And that art of making enemy made his life like the catalogue of events that forced him to run from one place to another during his short life.

Style of Painting

Caravaggio would use the colours and tones as a musician would use pitch and rhythm. He mainly painted in the style that would make the viewers understand the details of painting easily. He painted figure with knife-edged contours and with masterly perfection. He would depict motion in a little bit exaggerated manner. His was a period when such a style of painting known as ‘baroque’ was practiced by many artists who mainly worked for the churches and courts. His art showed the religious themes with emotional touches. Before this period, it was the style of renaissance artists narrating calm scenes with rationality, the scenes before something had happened. The Baroque artist would show the very happening of the events with full movement and its dramatic parts. That would generate the spurt of emotions within the minds and hearts of the viewers; and Caravaggio did it very well through his near realistic paintings.

Life of Caravaggio

Trained as an apprentice of an artist who had worked under Titian, Caravaggio (1571 – 1610) had very rich legacy to carry on in his short life. During the last ten years of his life, he had produced many master pieces.


While his stay in Rome he got many commissions from church and other buyers. But his unconventional treatments of religious figures had made him a controversial artist. His depiction of physical violence in the paintings was also not received with welcome. However his art of depicting the light and shade with artistic perfection would make him one of the most saleable artists of the time. It is not a wonder why his paintings done with uncompromising reality are considered as the visual vocabulary of European art.

Gallery: The Paintings Done by Caravaggio

Many artists have been criticized for being unrealistic. Caravaggio was criticized for being too realistic in depicting the subjects; as his was the time when classic idealism, the movement pioneer by the great painters like Michelangelo, was the norm for the artist to follow. Caravaggio walked on a different path by his work.

Crucifixion of St. Peter

The painting known as “Crucifixion of St. Peter”, which was initially rejected, is one of such paintings that looked much realistic. Showing the crucifixion of St Peter, he had tried to depict the reality in every respect. If we observe the strained faces and the body language of the three persons doing the job of Crucifixion, we can clearly perceive the weight of the wrong doing on their minds. The masterly use of lighting and shades used had made the figure of St. Peter showing bathed in angelic glow.

Caravaggio - Amor Vincit - detail

He is one of the few old masters against whom such a big flood of venomous criticism was let loose. Though surrounded by many controversies, he got much fame for his paintings like “Supper at Emmaus (1600-1601, Oil on canvas, size 54 3/4 x 76 3/4 inches). Presently this painting is in National Gallery, London. His still life paintings also are the wonderful examples of neat realism. This painting has nicely contoured life-sized figures. Painted with dark background, the theme is from bible. It narrates a scene in connection with the resurrection of Jesus. Here Jesus is miraculously shown in a changed get ups. The master strokes of light painted on forehead and the cloth show how Caravaggio can create a divine atmosphere. The artist has succeeded here in depicting his skill of honouring the persuasive clarity and the sense of balance. (All the images courtesy Wikimedia.)

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