Caravaggio and His Followers in Rome

October 16, 2011January 8, 2012

One of the most influential figures in the history of art, Caravaggio (1571–1610) overturned the artistic conventions of the day and created stunningly dramatic paintings, both sacred and secular. This ambitious exhibition explores the profound impact of his work on the wide range of painters of Italian, French, Dutch, Flemish, and Spanish origin who resided in Rome. 

Cardsharps and Fortune Tellers

The young Caravaggio introduced a new kind of painting to Rome with his scenes from the seamy side of life. These large-scale, highly naturalistic compositions were among his most widely imitated creations. They conjure up an underworld of wily cardsharps, soldiers of fortune, foolish dupes, sensuous gypsy women, pickpockets, and thugs.

Music and Youth

Caravaggio’s early works often featured handsome youths, singly or in groups, with virtuoso still-life motifs—scenes of sensual pleasure but with a built-in warning against indulgence. His paintings of musicians, which often have a melancholy air, caught on throughout Europe in the work of his followers, who brought their own innovations to the genre.


Caravaggio grounded his images of saints in everyday reality, indicating their spiritual states by means of natural phenomena, especially light—a metaphor of divine inspiration that added drama and symbolism. He worked directly from live models, never conforming to an ideal of beauty, to dissolve the borders between art and life and between the divine and the human.

The Sacred Narrative

Caravaggio’s scenes of biblical events are dramatic, even theatrical, yet grounded in the observation of ordinary reality. The characters in the story are caught in midaction at a decisive, meaningful moment, and Caravaggio presents them with shocking directness and intensity, breaking all the rules of decorum that restrained more conventional painters.