Originally named Michelangelo Merisi, Caravaggio was born on September 28, 1573 in the Lombardy hill town of Caravaggio near Milan, which he is named after. He was born to relatively privileged parents who were victims of an epidemic and he became an orphan at the age of eleven. When Caravaggio was only 13 years old his family decided he would devote his life to painting. Caravaggio began as an apprenticed in 1584 to Simon Peterzano, a Milanese painter in oils and fresco. His earliest years in Rome, from-1588 were very difficult for Caravaggio. He was employed for a while in the workshop of Mannerist painter Giuseppe Cesari, also known as the Cavaliere d’Arpino as a fruit and flowers specialist, the only Caravaggio’s still life work known without figures is a Basket of Fruit (1597 Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Milan) the facts about this piece are not really clear although it is possible the painting was made as a trial piece, since the background was added later (the piece is now lost).
Basket of Fruit (1597)-
In 1592, Caravaggio arrived in Rome at the age of 21. His first five years in Rome were the hardest period for Caravaggio. He had no money and lived a very modest life style because he couldn’t find a suitable work place, therefore he moved from one workshop to another frustrated from working as an assistant to painters who had much smaller talent than his own. He earned his living mostly from uncreative routine work and never stayed more than a few months at each studio. Finally in 1595, he decided to set out on his own and began to sell his pictures through a dealer, Maestro Valentino, who brought Caravaggio’s work to the attention of Cardinal Francesco Del Monte, a bishop of great influence in the Vatican. Caravaggio soon came under the protection of Del Monte and was invited to receive a place to live, and a pension in the house of the cardinal. Despite spiritual and material deficiency, Caravaggio had painted approximately 40 paintings for Francesco Del Monte. The subjects of this period are mostly adolescent boys, such as the above paintings:
Boy with a Fruit Basket (1593; Borghese Gallery, Rome).
The boy with a fruit basket has similarities with another painting the- Fruit seller by the Lombard painter Vincenzo Campi, painted about 1580, nevertheless, Caravaggio is not following his footsteps and using innovative drawing techniques. Differently from Vincenzo Campi’s drawing posing a young woman in the center of the piece, Caravaggio preferred a teenage boy which was his most common theme of drawing at the time. Also his subject is brought almost to the front of the picture, so that the boy seems to offer himself as well as the fruit to the observers. There is a sign of uncertainty in the way that the boy’s long neck raises out of his shoulders edge. Caravaggio’s incredible techniques of light and shadow are already seen in his early work. Against a near-blank ground, attention is focused on the right side of the boy’s upper body, his right arm and the fruit basket, displaying very rich variety of fruits.
The Young Bacchus (1593; Uffizi Gallery, Florence).
Caravaggio’s Bacchus no longer seems like an ancient god, or the Olympian vision of the High Renaissance. Instead, Caravaggio paints a rather vulgar and soft yang boy, who turns his chubby face towards the viewer and offers wine from a large glass held by his small thin fingers. This is not Bacchus himself, but some perfectly ordinary individual dressed up as Bacchus, who looks at the viewers rather exhaustedly. It appears that Caravaggio used real people for his paintings even in his early work.
The Music Party (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).
The two figures seen in the front of the piece are the main characters of the composition. They are shown in an oppositional structure, and only one of them is fully shown. The figure of the instrument player and the corresponding figure that we see from behind. The face between these two is Caravaggio’s; the figure on the left is taken from an earlier composition (Young Peeling a Pear). Caravaggio’s usage of a narrow range of earth colors which was his signature method of painting is shown from his earliest work as well as in his most famous ones. Also his amazing use of details, he describes every part of the figures anatomy and he always creates movement in his paintings. These early pictures show an innovative, direct, and empirical approach; they were painted directly from life and show almost no usage of the academic method of painting which was used in Rome at the time.