Caravaggio's darkness: A sinner's reputation with a saint's heart
Wendt, Kristine L.
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One of the most elusive art historical biographies belongs to Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. Having pieced together his biography using police records, historians have classified Caravaggio as violent and irascible. Contemporary biographies, covetous and quite biased, have further skewed our understanding of the artist, even suggesting that he was an atheist and obsessed with death and decapitation. Most significantly is the claim that Caravaggio's darkness in his personal life was the catalyst in his extensive employment of chiaroscuro. Though it is probable Caravaggio had personal adversity, as Walter Friedlander famously suspected, I propose rather, the radical shift in style was in direct response to the ideas deriving from completely orthodox and well-disseminated spiritual notions of his day. Moreover, I argue Caravaggio's darkness was used in referent to metaphorical darkness. Metaphorically, Caravaggio's darkness may well be explained by his associations with notions of spiritual darkness, emphasized in the well-entrenched traditions of Christian mysticism.