National Gallery of Art - EXHIBITIONS

Caravaggio's The Taking of Christ

Caravaggio and His Followers

During the early years of the seventeenth century, Caravaggio developed a revolutionary style of painting, which had immense impact on his contemporaries in Rome, as well as on successive generations of artists as far afield as Spain and northern Europe. Born in Lombardy, he traveled to Rome in 1592 at the age of twenty-one, and soon attracted the attention of some of the most influential members of Roman society. His innovative works, which show his reaction to the artifice and sophistication of the prevailing mannerist style, brought Caravaggio immediate success and numerous private and public commissions. The paintings are marked by an intense realism, and combine elevated religious scenes with the immediacy of the everyday. His representations of biblical figures in unkempt, contemporary dress often attracted the hostile criticism of his contemporaries. His painting of the Death of the Virgin was famously rejected by its patron because the figure of Mary had apparently been modeled on the corpse of a prostitute dragged from the river Tiber. Caravaggio’s works were also renowned for their dramatic intensity, achieved through bold contrasts of light and shade (known as chiaroscuro) and through the immediacy of his compositions. They usually feature close-up or cropped figures set against a plain, dark background that pushes them abruptly toward the spectator.

The artist’s life was short, and his unruly behavior attracted as much attention as his revolutionary works. His numerous misdemeanors, documented in police records, culminated with his murder of an opponent during a game of pallacorda, or tennis, and led to his flight from Rome in 1606. By the time of his death in 1610, his style of painting was already the most imitated and influential in Europe.

The other artists whose works are exhibited here all came under the influence of Caravaggio, adopting such elements as his extreme lighting, dramatic compositions, and acute psychological observation. They include Caravaggio’s Italian contemporary Orazio Gentileschi as well as a later north Italian artist, Tanzio da Varallo. Of the French artists, both Simon Vouet and Valentin de Boulogne spent time in Rome, where they encountered Caravaggio’s work. Georges de La Tour may never have made the journey to Italy, but could have assimilated the principles of Caravaggio’s style and technique from the work of other northern artists working in a Caravaggesque manner. The Spanish artist Jusepe de Ribera traveled to Italy at an early age, and is documented as being in Rome during the middle of the 1610s.

Brochure Images | Exhibition Information
Lost and Found | The Taking of Christ | Caravaggio and His Followers
The Counter-Reformation | The Penitent Sinner | Scenes of Martyrdom
Dreams and Visions | Secular Subjects and Sinners