Caravaggio: Behold the Man! The Impact of A Revolutionary Realist

| November 8, 2011 | 1 Comment

He was a drunk. A brawler. Even the recipient of a papal death warrant.

“Caravaggio has one of those lives that makes a great novel,” supposes Dominique Vasseur, Curator of European Art at the Columbus Museum of Art. “He knew that he was tremendously talented, but as his fame increased so did his reckless behavior.” Regardless of the artist’s penchant for jail cells, the juicy details of his infamy are far outweighed by his impact on the art world.

The exhibit at the Columbus Museum of Art features a single Caravaggio painting, “Ece Homo,” surrounded by the work of his contemporaries inspired by his bombastic, challenging style. “Caravaggio’s art comes at the very moment when his is able to dramatically change the art world,” says Vasseur.  As Caravaggio was rising in the art world, it came at a time when art had become “Very effete…and unnatural in appearance.”  And we can see, even with just one of his paintings, how his striking realism, transformative use of light, and direct storytelling changed the art world.

“Even though Caravaggio made his career as a painter of religious subjects, there is something so elemental, they are so human, that some people call Caravaggio the first Modern painter.”

It is rare that a single artist has such an effect on his peers. Vasseur compares Caravaggio’s impact on the art world to that of Pablo Picasso in the early 1900s, or Andy Warhol in the 1960s. Vasseur elaborates: “Because his work was so different, young artists were coming from all over to see his work and totally blown away by them, and wanted to paint like Caravaggio was doing.”

Last year was the 400th anniversary of Caravaggio’s death, and his confrontational style and frank realism are still provoking reactions now as much as in his own time. “And that’s remarkable because in many art movements, such as the impressionists, it [impressionism] was very radical at the time.” says Vasseur.  “We don’t think Impressionism is radical now, we think that it’s lovely, it’s beautiful. Caravaggio’s art on the other hand still has that edge, it’s got that sheer gutsy-ness, that truly shows him to be a master of his time and of our time.”

You can see the master’s work as well as ten of his contemporaries through February 5th at the Columbus Museum of Art, located at 480 W. Broad St., Columbus, OH 43215.  For hours and information, visit their website at

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  • Melody

    when and how did he die?