He was born Michelangelo Merisi on Sept. 28, 1573, in Caravaggio, Italy. At age 24, he was commissioned to paint for the church of San Luigi dei Francesi. In its Contarelli Chapel Caravaggio's realistic naturalism first fully appeared in three scenes he created of the life of St. Matthew. The oil paintings caused public outcry, however, because of their realistic and dramatic nature. Despite violent criticism, his reputation increased and Caravaggio began to be envied. He had many encounters with the law during his stay in Rome. He was imprisoned for several assaults and for killing an opponent after a disputed score in a game of court tennis. Caravaggio fled the city and kept moving between hiding places. He reached Naples, probably early in 1607, and painted there for a time, awaiting a pardon by the pope. Here there was a change in his painting style. The dark and urgent nature of his paintings at this time must have reflected Caravaggio's desperate state of mind.
Early in 1608 Caravaggio went to Malta and was received as a celebrated artist. Fearful of pursuit, he continued to flee for two more years, but his oil paintings of this time were among the greatest of his career. After receiving a pardon from the pope, he was wrongfully arrested and imprisoned for two days. A boat that was to take him to Rome left without him, taking his belongings. Misfortune, exhaustion, and illness overtook him as he helplessly watched the boat depart. He collapsed on the beach and died a few days later on July 18, 1610.
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