In the Footsteps of Caravaggio

Italy has produced a wide range of great artistic talents over the years, with the likes of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo all hailing from this great country. But one of the most beloved and interesting painters Italy has produced has to be the one and only Caravaggio.

 

Famed for his realistic yet dark, horrific and often gory depictions of biblical/mythical scenes, this Old Master travelled extensively across Italy, often not by choice, but due to being exiled from Rome, and seeking refuge in alternative locations.

 

As a result his masterpieces can be found in cities all over the country and catching a glimpse of one is a must-do for any art lover during their holiday in bella Italia. For this reason, we’ve put together a comprehensive (but by no means definitive) guide to where you can see some of Caravaggio’s most famous paintings in Italy.

Rome

Let’s face it, if you’re looking for the city with the most Caravaggio paintings per square metre, you’re going to have to head to Rome. Start off at the Contarelli Chapel, which is aptly only a few minutes’ walk from Piazza Navona, known as the artists’ square. This small chapel famously boasts an enviable series of three Caravaggio paintings, all of which meditate upon the story of St. Matthew and caused a stir in Rome when they were first displayed for their dramatic yet realistic style. Fun fact! The third and final painting that Caravaggio completed for the chapel, The Inspiration of St. Matthew, in fact, had to be repainted, as his first submission was frowned upon for the suggestive way in which the angel cuddled up to the holy saint. You will, therefore, note that in the version you see today, the angel maintains a safe distance from Mr. Matthew!

 

Caravaggio wasn’t a stranger to causing a scandal, and if you want to find out more about how he shocked the Roman art world, then make your way to the Cerasi Chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo. Here reside two of the artist’s paintings entitled The Conversion of St Paul and The Crucifixion of St Peter, the former of which upset the artist’s patrons due to the canvas being mostly filled with a depiction of a horse’s backside. Apparently at the time animal buttocks were not seen as the most appropriate decoration for a place of worship…

 

Other key locations to visit include the Cavaletti Chapel and the Palazzo Barberini, but most of all, true Caravaggio lovers should ensure they make their way to Galleria Borghese, a powerhouse institution that is a staple of the Roman art scene. Here you will have the opportunity to view some of the Renaissance master’s most prominent paintings, including his late work David with the Head of Goliath, which he sent to Rome whilst he was exiled in Malta as a plea to allow him to return to the Eternal City.

Martirio di San Pietro | © Cerasi Chapel Collection | WikiCommons/Public Domains

Naples

Naples is another key place in the life of the great Renaissance master, as this is the city where he fled after being exiled from Rome for killing a young man by the name of Ranuccio Tomassoni. As a result, Bella Napoli is full to brimming with fascinating Caravaggio paintings for you to feast your eyes upon. Start off by heading to see the artist’s renowned Flagellation of Christ which can be found at the Museo Capodimonte. Located in a room by itself, this dramatic depiction of the Son of God being tortured by three male figures is an emotional masterpiece and dates back to 1607. We deny anybody not to feel intimidated as they gaze into the raging eyes of Christ’s attackers, or to feel empathy for the victim as his arms are tied tightly behind his back, his head bowed in dutiful acceptance of his fate.

 

After witnessing the power of this painting, make your way to the Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano, a Baroque palace in the San Ferdinando area of Naples, which houses the last known Caravaggio work to be produced before his death in 1610. Named The Martyrdom of St. Ursula, the work tells the tale of the female saint and her 11,000 virgin companions who were captured and slaughtered by King of the Huns. Whilst the King offered to spare Orseola’s life if she agreed to marry him, the brave princess declined in an inspiring display of female courage, making this painting a must visit for all ardent feminists!

 

To finish your Neapolitan Caravaggio tour off on a happier note, head to the Pio Monte della Misericordia in Naples’ historic centre. Here you will be able to witness the serene beauty of The Seven Works of Mercy, an oil painting depicting the seven key compassionate acts in the Catholic religion which Christians are expected to perform. From burying the dead to sheltering the homeless, these acts come together in Caravaggio’s painting to create a heart-warming display of charity and goodwill, from which we could all learn a lesson in selflessness.

​The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula | © Web Gallery of Art | WikiCommons/Public Domains

Florence

The Tuscan city of Florence is home to the Uffizi Gallery, which is one of the foremost art galleries in the world. With this in mind, it isn’t surprising that such a prominent art institution should have its fair share of paintings by Caravaggio. In fact, the museum is home to one of the Italian master’s most famous paintings, Medusa from 1579, which captures the Greek gorgon mid-scream, just has her head has been severed by the hero Perseus.

 

The blood oozing from her neck and the horror in her eyes are perfect examples of the gruesome realism that is indicative of Caravaggio’s artistic style, so if you suffer from hemophobia, you might want to steer clear of this one! Instead, why not cast your eyes over some of the artist’s less graphic works in the Uffizi’s collection, such as Boy with a Basket of Fruit or his depiction of Bacchus from 1598. Who knows, seeing the god of wine with a glass of vino rosso in his hand may inspire you to go in search of a tipple of your own…

Medusa | © Google Cultural Institute | WikiCommons/Public Domains

Syracuse

Whilst the city of Syracuse in Sicily may be best known for its ancient ruins and dreamy coastal location, it also boasts its very own Caravaggio creation! Head to the Church of Santa Lucia alla Badia to catch a glimpse of the painter’s 1608 work The Burial of St. Lucy which was painted by the Italian master when he came to the city after escaping from Malta where he had been imprisoned – probably for brawling with an aristocratic knight.

 

The painting was commissioned as an altarpiece for the church in which it still resides, and it depicts the emotional funeral of Syracuse’s patron saint.

 

Fun fact! Saint Lucy is actually also interred at the church where the Italian master’s painting is displayed.

Burial of Saint Lucy Caravaggio

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