Rome has several spots with masterpieces of Caravaggio (1573-1610), one of the most significant Italian painters. Roman museums and galleries contain artworks that are famous for his dramatic use of chiaroscuro and the influence on the Baroque style of painting.
- 1 Who is Caravaggio
- 2 Where to See Paintings for Free
- 2.1 The Church of San Luigi dei Francesi
- 2.2 Basilica of Sant’Agostino
- 2.3 Church of Santa Maria del Popolo
- 3 Paid Galleries and Museums
- 3.1 Borghese Gallery
- 3.2 Odescalchi Balbi Collection
- 3.3 Palazzo Barberini
- 3.4 Capitoline Museums
- 3.5 Vatican Museums
- 3.6 Doria Pamphilj Gallery
- 3.7 Palazzo Corsini
Who is Caravaggio
Michelangelo Merisi (Michele Angelo Merigi or Amerighi) da Caravaggio, known simply as Caravaggio, was an Italian painter active in Rome, Naples, Malta, and Sicily from the early 1590s to 1610. Moreover, he is known as the “Bad Boy of the Baroque”, who expressed crucial moments and scenes, often featuring violent struggles, torture and death.
He disdained each kind of idealism whether respectable or castrate, turned into the leader of the Naturalisti in painting, and received a style of strong contrasts of light and shadow, laid on with a kind of fierceness, demonstrative of that furious temper which drove the artist to submit a murder in a betting fight at Rome: he killed Ranuccio Tomassoni on 29th of May 1606.
To maintain a strategic distance from the results of his wrongdoing he fled to Naples and to Malta, where he was detained for another endeavor to vindicate a quarrel. Getting away to Sicily, he was assaulted by a party sent in ursuit for him, and seriously injured. Being absolved, he set out for Rome; however having been arrested mistakenly before his landing, and thereafter discharged, and left to shift for himself in excessive warmth, and as yet experiencing wounds and hardships, he passed on of fever on the shoreline at Pontercole in 1610.
Here’s the list of the best churches and museums where to admire masterpieces by Caravaggio:
Where to See Paintings for Free
Entrance to churches in Rome is free from admission, so you can see several masterpieces by Caravaggio without paying anything.
The Church of San Luigi dei Francesi
- Address: Piazza di S. Luigi de’ Francesi
The church to Rome’s French community since 1589 has a Renaissance-style façade with the 18th-century interior. There are three art works of Caravaggio date from 1599-1602 and feature St. Matthew: the Vocazione di San Matteo (The Calling of Saint Matthew), the Martirio di San Matteo (The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew), and San Matteo e l’angelo (Saint Matthew and the Angel or The Inspiration of Saint Matthew).
The Calling of Saint Matthew
The Calling of Saint Matthew is a gem by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, delineating the minute at which Jesus Christ moves Matthew to follow him. It was finished in 1599– 1600 for the Contarelli Chapel in the congregation of the French assembly, San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome, where it remains today. It hangs nearby two different compositions of Matthew via Caravaggio, The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew (painted around an indistinguishable time from the Calling) and The Inspiration of Saint Matthew (1602).
Caravaggio is famous for the contrasts between shadows and light in his art works and this masterpiece is great example of the naturalism that features his paintings
The Inspiration of Saint Matthew
The Inspiration of Saint Matthew was commissioned by the French Cardinal Matteo Contarelli, the canvas hangs in Contarelli chapel altar.
The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew
The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew demonstrates the suffering of Saint Matthew the Evangelist, creator of the Gospel of Matthew. As per custom, the holy person was executed on the requests of the king of Ethiopia while observing Mass at the altar.
Basilica of Sant’Agostino
- Address: Piazza di Sant’Agostino
Church of St. Augustine (Sant’Agostino) is another place in Rome, where art lovers have a chance to see the masterpiece by Caravaggio. The building is easy to find on the square with the same name. There you can admire “Madonna di Loreto” and other masterpieces of the Italian masters of the era. The realism of the biblical characters and the special manner of writing of Caravaggio made him famous and well paid. He performed profitable orders for the design of churches. In the last decade of his life, the painter created primarily masterpieces related to stories from the Gospel, depicting biblical characters.
Mother of Pilgrims
“Madonna di Loreto” or the “Mother of Pilgrims” (canvas, 1604-1605), located in the first chapel on the left, is the most sensational canvas of the master. It delineates the nebulous vision of the barefoot Virgin and naked child to two laborers on a pilgrimage; or as some say it is the enlivening of the notable statue of the Virgin.
Church of Santa Maria del Popolo
- Location: Piazza del Popolo
- Working hours: 7:15 am – 12:30 am, 4 pm – 7 pm
The Cerasi Chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo contains two paintings by Caravaggio. These paintings are: “The Conversion on the Way to Damascus” and famous “Crucifixion of Saint Peter.”
Crucifixion of Saint Peter
“Crucifixion of Saint Peter” (Crocifissione di san Pietro, 1601) is the artwork that delineates the martyrdom of St. Peter by crucifixion— Peter asked to rearrange his cross for not copying his God, Jesus Christ. Consequently, he is portrayed upside down.
The Conversion on the Way to Damascus
“The Conversion on the Way to Damascus” (Conversione di San Paolo, 1601) portrays the moment described in Chapter 9 of Acts of the Apostles when Saul, soon to be the apostle Paul, fell headed straight toward Damascus. He heard the Lord say “I am Jesus, whom you persecute, arise and go into the city.” The Golden Legend, a gathering of medieval translations of biblical events, may have framed the occasion for Caravaggio. This scene demonstrates the specific minute Paul is overcome with the spirit of Jesus Christ and has been flung off of his pony.
Paid Galleries and Museums
Most of masterpieces by Caravaggio located in world-wide famous galleries and museums of Rome.
- Address: Piazzale del Museo Borghese, 5
- Price: 14 euro
The Borghese Gallery considered as one of Rome’s most famous museums with many Caravaggio’s paintings. Some of the most important masterpieces of the gallery are “Boy with a Basket of Fruit”, “Self-portrait as Bacchus”, “David with the Head of Goliath”, “Madonna and Child with Saint Anne”,”John the Baptist”, and “Saint Jerome Writing.”
Reservations for the Borghese Gallery are mandatory and you should better buy tickets online
Boy with a Basket of Fruit
“Boy with a Basket of Fruit” (1593-1594) is one of the first works where the image of each fetus has been carefully worked out. The model for the boy in painting was Caravaggio’s great companion Mario Minniti, who was 16 at the time, and who might fill in as one of his models ordinarily later on. Red, black, and white grapes, apples, pears, apricots, figs blasting open, pomegranates, and grape, pear, and lemon leaves shape an extravagant bundle of natural product, nearly delectable as it is material and visual.
Young Sick Bacchus
The “Young Sick Bacchus” (Italian: Bacchino Malato), otherwise called the Sick Bacchus or the Self-Portrait as Bacchus, is an early self-portrait, dated in the vicinity of 1593 and 1594. As per Caravaggio’s first biographer, Giovanni Baglione, it was a cabinet piece painted by the artist utilizing a mirror.
John the Baptist
In Caravaggio’s depiction “John the Baptist” (Youth with a Ram, 1610) (italian: San Giovanni Battista), the boy is for the most part alluded as Saint John the Baptist. In any case, the trouble is that this adolescent isn’t adequate as a sacred Christian figure. He isn’t androgynous, similar to the Bacchus, however he is about as challenging and more straightforwardly erotic.
Saint Jerome Writing
“Saint Jerome Writing” (italian: San Girolamo scrivente) delineates Saint Jerome, a Doctor of the Church in Roman Catholicism and a well known subject for painting, who delivered different works of art of Jerome in Meditation and occupied with writing. In this picture, Jerome is perusing eagerly, an outstretched arm resting with quill. It has been proposed that Jerome is portrayed in the act of translating the Vulgate.
Madonna and Child with Saint Anne
The “Madonna and Child with Saint Anne” (italian: Dei Palafrenieri) was painted between 1605 and 8 April 1606, when a last payment to Caravaggio was recorded, for the Confraternity of Sant’ Anna dei Palafrenieri, or Grooms, of the Vatican Palace. The structure delineates Christ and the Virgin treading at the same time on the serpent of sin, viewed by the Virgin’s mom, St. Anne, who was the patron saint of the Palafrenieri.
David with the Head of Goliath
“David with the Head of Goliath” was in the collection of Cardinal Scipione Borghese in 1650. It has been dated as early as 1605 and as late as 1609– 1610. The inspiration for Caravaggio was a work by a follower of Giorgione, c.1510, yet Caravaggio catches the drama more effectively by having the head dangling from David’s hand and dribbling blood, instead of laying on an edge. The sword in David’s grasp conveys a shortened engraving H-AS OS; this has been translated from the Latin “humilitas occidit superbiam” as “humility kills pride.”
Odescalchi Balbi Collection
- Address: Palazzo Odescalchi Balbi, Piazza dei Santi Apostoli, 80
The Coversion of Saint Paul
“The Conversion of Saint Paul” (about 1600) is one of the variations of the composition, which impresses with its realism. The plot of Saint Paul’s repentance in this version is the first masterpiece rejected by the client for the Chaprazi Chapel in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo. A complex composition with a dramatic plot is reflected in every gesture – blinded Saint Paul covered his eyes with his hands. On the way to Damascus, he was blinded by the divine light that led to repentance, after which he became known as the Apostle Paul, who wrote a significant part of the New Testament.
- Location: Via delle Quattro Fontane, 13
A short distance from the square is the Barberini Palace (Palazzo Barberini), a Baroque palace with the Museum of Ancient Art (Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica) inside.
Judith Beheading Holofernes
One of the most significant artworks is “Judith Beheading Holofernes” which was painted in 1597-1599. The widow Judith first charms the Assyrian general Holofernes, then decapitates him in his tent.
The painting was rediscovered in 1950 and is part of the collection of the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica in Rome
Another notable painting is Narcissus, painted in 1597–1599. It is housed in the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica in Rome. The composition was initially ascribed to Caravaggio by Roberto Longhi in 1916. Narcissus, as indicated by the artist Ovid in his Metamorphoses, is a nice looking youth who becomes hopelessly enamored with his own appearance. Unfit to tear himself away, he dies of his passion.
- Location: Piazza del Campidoglio, 1
The Fortune Teller
“The Fortune Teller” (italian: Buona Ventura, 1594) exists in two variants, both by Caravaggio, the first from 1594 (now in the Capitoline Museums in Rome), the second from 1595 (which is in the Louvre Museum, Paris). The dates in the two cases are questioned. The painting demonstrates a dapperly dressed boy having his palm read by a gypsy girl. The boy looks satisfied as he looks into her face, and she returns his gaze. Close examination of the depiction uncovers what the young boy has failed to notice: the young lady is removing his ring as she delicately strokes his hand.
- Address: Viale Vaticano
- Price: 20 euro
- Opening hours: from 9 am to 4 pm
The Vatican Museums contain “The Entombment of Christ” painting in the Pinacoteca (art gallery) and there are always many visitors. Moreover, the Gallery includes works by other top artists like Giotto, Raphael, and da Vinci.
The Entombment of Christ
Caravaggio’s Christ has a much more physical presence than other idealised portrayals. It’s the perfect example of Caravaggio’s power as an artist, representing human physicality and emotion within a religious context.
The work of art consists of six individuals, including the dead Christ. The upper half of Christ’s body is being upheld by John the Evangelist, his right hand fingering Christ’s stub wound; the lower half is supported by Saint Nicodemus, who expelled the nails from Christ’s feet on the cross. Nicodemus is the main character in the picture and his body is its compositional anchor. Behind the two men, the three women are: Virgin Mary, delineated here as an elderly nun; in the centre, face shadowed, is Mary Magdalene, the female adherent of Jesus; on the right is the moaning Mary of Clopas, sister of the Virgin Mary, who raises her arms to heaven.
The best way to avoid queues is to buy Vatican Museum tickets online in advance
Doria Pamphilj Gallery
- Address: Via del Corso, 305
- Entrance: 12 euro
- Opening hours: from 9 am to 7 pm
Doria Pamphil Gallery is the private gallery that boasts a vast collection of art, including three works by Caravaggio: “The Penitent Magdalene”, “The Rest on the Flight into Egypt”, and one of the two identical versions of “John the Baptist.”
The Penitent Magdalene
“The Penitent Magdalene” (italian: Maddalena Penitente, 1594-1595) portrays a weeping girl, bowed in a seat, as she abandons her dissolute life. The model for the Magdalene was a prostitute with whom Caravaggio used to hang out, and that can be recognized in several of his paintings.
The Rest on the Flight into Egypt
“The Rest on the Flight into Egypt” (italian: “Riposo durante la fuga in Egitto”, 1597) portrays an angel playing a violin to the Holy Family amid their journey into Egypt, and is of extraordinary significance since it represents the first painting with a biblical scene and of large size acknowledged by the youthful Caravaggio.
Palazzo Corsini (Corsini Palace) is located in the Trastevere district, next to Villa Farnesina. It represents several gardens, buildings and a collection of works of art belonged to a distinguished family of Florentines who moved to Rome. There is also a picturesque canvas of Caravaggio.
John the Baptist
“John the Baptist” (1603-1604), the person who lived in the desert and baptized the people in the waters of the Jordan. In those days it was one of the most popular biblical images, so there are so many versions. Even Caravaggio has several paintings with the same name. The image of the ascetic who ate the acrid and wild honey in the desert, covering the nakedness with animal skins, baptized the masses in the Jordan. Jesus called him the greatest of the prophets.
It is definitely worth to see Caravaggio’s masterpieces during your visit to the Eternal City. Tell us about your favorite painting in comments!