Caravaggio at the National Gallery

Lot and his Daughters, 1600-50 (oil on canvas)
Lot and his Daughters, by Giovanni Francesco Guerrieri (1589-c.1647)

Entitled Beyond Caravaggio, the National Gallery’s major autumn exhibition focuses on the work of the Italian artist and his influence on the art of his contemporaries and followers.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) is one of the most revolutionary figures in art, famous in particular for using dramatic lighting and taking ideas from real life.


Still inspiring

Caravaggio had no pupils and died at the relatively young age of 39, but from around 1600 artists from across Europe began to copy his techniques.

The director of the National Gallery, Dr Gabriele Finaldi, added: ‘Four centuries on, Caravaggio’s art still retains the power to inspire, awe and surprise. This exhibition shows how his revolutionary paintings had a profound impact on dozens of artists from all over Europe.’

Set against subdued backgrounds of dark grey and navy blue, the exhibition begins by exploring the painter’s early years in Rome when his work was considered highly original thanks to his use of everyday subjects and dramatic lighting. It then moves on to look at works by his close associates before branching out into paintings by those who had no direct dealings with the artist.

Throughout, works by Caravaggio are hung close to those by those who took inspiration from his methodology, subject matter and ability to tell a compelling story.

Singer by candelight, 1625-35
A Man Singing by Candlelight, Adam de Coster c.1625-1635.

Dramatic effects

As the exhibition unfolds, it demonstrates how the artist’s contemporaries developed his themes and in particular use of chiaoscuro (contrasting light effects) to portray dramatic scenes of both everyday life and religious inspiration.

For example, while Caravaggio never depicted a candle in his paintings, many of his near contemporaries saw candlelight as a way to depict shadows and to bring drama to a scene.

Beyond Caravaggio curator Letizia Treves said: ‘The National gallery is fortunate enough to have three paintings by Caravaggio, each from a different phase in his career, but we are not normally able to show these works in context in our galleries.’

Beyond Caravaggio is at the National Gallery until 15 January 2017. It will then travel to the National Gallery of Ireland and the Scottish National Gallery.

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