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Term applied to painters who imitated the style of Caravaggio in the early 17th century. Caravaggio's revolutionary approach to painting, particularly his dramatic use of chiaroscuro, had extraordinary influence in Rome in the first decade of the 17th century, not only on Italian painters, but also on artists from other countries who flocked to what was then the artistic capital of Europe. His fame was already spreading outside Italy by 1604, when Karel van Mander, in Haarlem, wrote of ‘Michelangelo da Caravaggio, who is doing extraordinary things in Rome’, and in 1642 Bellori commented: ‘The painters then in Rome were greatly impressed by his novelty and the younger ones especially gathered around him and praised him as the only true imitator of nature. Looking upon his works as miracles, they outdid each other in following his method.’ The most prominent of the Italian Caravaggisti included Orazio Gentileschi, one of the few followers to have close personal contact with the master, and Bartolommeo Manfredi, who popularized gaming and drinking scenes, subjects that Caravaggio himself had rarely painted. In Naples, where Caravaggio worked intermittently between 1606 and 1610, Caracciolo, Artemisia Gentileschi, and Ribera, a Spaniard by birth, ensured that the style took firm root. In Rome, Caravaggism went out of favour in the 1620s, but it persisted elsewhere in Italy, and in other parts of Europe, particularly in Sicily (which Caravaggio visited), Utrecht, and Lorraine, lingering into the 1650s in all three places. Baburen, Honthorst, and Terbrugghen were the three most important artists in making Utrecht the Dutch centre of Caravaggism, and in Lorraine Georges de La Tour created perhaps the most personal and poetic interpretation of the style. Few major painters worked in a Caravaggesque style throughout their careers: some, such as Guido Reni, had a brief flirtation with it (Caravaggio is said to have threatened to ‘break his skull’ for stealing his ideas), while others, such as Honthorst (who became a court portraitist), had a complete change of direction. Echoes of the Caravaggesque style can be found in the work of some of the giants of 17th-century art: Rembrandt, Rubens, and Velázquez.

Subjects: Art.

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