Caravaggio Paintings: A Legacy Preserved For Almost 400 Years

Known to style the artworks with Humanist characteristics and light patterns, Caravaggio is unarguably among the most important Italian artist to know about. Read on to learn a few of his paintings that continue to inspire viewers.

Caravaggio paintings

The name Caravaggio itself defines the entire art style of the famous Baroque period. But somewhere between other art styles and a time gap of almost 400 years, we came close to forgetting Caravaggio paintings. But surprisingly, since the beginning of the 20th century, Caravaggio’s art was discovered again. Despite his dismissal by the critic, Poussin, who stated that he came to destroy his painting and fall into oblivion, Caravaggio’s name reappeared in the collective memory in certain periods of history. Even in the late 1500s and early 1600s, the artist’s contemporary, Giovanni Baglione, recognized his importance as a discoverer of a distinctly modern style. He described Caravaggio as,

“made with the greatest diligence, most exquisitely.”

Another patron of Caravaggio, Marchese Vincenzo Giustiniani di Bassano, also knew that the artist was a genius as he said in one of the letters to the advocate Teodoro Amideni,

“As Caravaggio himself said, a painting of flowers requires as much care as one of the people”,

“of the highest class of painters- we have Caravaggio.”

Now, when we hear such things about the artist, it becomes mandatory to learn about him so that even generations remember his inventiveness and intellectuality. Hence, I am introducing fifteen paintings from the exquisite collection of the artist’s gallery, which tells us about him all. Before moving to the paintings however, let us first have a glimpse of the artist.

Artist Abstract: Caravaggio.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was born at the Caravaggio in Lombardy on September 28, 1573. Throughout his childhood, he lived in a quiet atmosphere in a small town located between Brescia and Milan. At the age of eleven, already orphaned, Caravaggio went to Milan to study painting. As a restless boy eager for knowledge and anxious to surpass his master’s mediocre Venetian-Lombard Eclecticism, Simone Peterzano’s four years working with him must have seemed very long. During this time, there were great discoveries made in Milan, which was in the process of recovering from the plague of 1576. Under all these circumstances, Rome captivated everyone and became the center of attention. In the course of time, all the painters from Flanders and Rhine passed through Milan, and the vision that summoned them was not just the manneristic Rome of Zuccari, Salviati, Muziano, and Fontana, but even less the legendary Rome of Raphael and Michelangelo. There was rather an aura of culture in the city, an interest in its ruins, exuberant artistic activity, and the patronage of enlightened churchmen and patricians. Architects and sculptors from the Lombard court dominated the papal court, so any artist, particularly one from Caravaggio, would have felt right at home there. And this way, Michelangelo Caravaggio was fully satisfied with his home and family. But his paintings spoke restless and mocking nature. The beginning and best example of this is the faun-like mask of the Sick Bacchus.

Caravaggio Chalk Portrait

Caravaggio moved several times from staying with monsignor Pandolfo Pucci to the Consolazione hospital at the time when he had malaria and then to the studio of Giuseppe d’Arpino. He also stayed and enjoyed the generous hospitality of his chief protector, Cardinal del Monte. The beginning of his canvases, which became most famous, were Boy Peeling Fruit, Boy with a Basket of Fruit, and Sick Bacchus. The use of realism is seen in them. Now that we know a bit about the artist’s profile, let us take a brief look at some of his paintings.

15 Caravaggio Paintings Depicting Drama & Reality.

1. Young Sick Bacchus.

Year1593 and 1594
MediumOil on canvas
Size67 × 53 cm
Where is it housed?Borghese Gallery

When Caravaggio began the apprenticeship in the studio of the Simone Peterzano in Milan, where he studied for around four to five years, he already showed signs of extravagance by his excessive and hot-tempered personality. And after several years, according to Baglione, Caravaggio started painting self-portraits through mirrors. And several works relied on it, but all the attributions are debatable. So, we have one possibility here that the painting belonged to the time when Caravaggio showed himself as a sick child with a paleness from malaria. One of the famous Caravaggio paintings, Young Sick Bacchus, shows signs of the disease from which Caravaggio suffered. Rather than reflecting his perverse soul, the sinister appearance of the artist could have only been the earthy complexion of a malaria victim and his relapses.

Young Sick Bacchus by Caravaggio

Young Sick Bacchus is the first recognized Caravaggio painting from the artist’s early days, hence becomes crucial for us to look upon.

2. Boy With a Basket of Fruit.

MediumOil on canvas
Size70 x 67 cm
Where is it housed?Museo e Galleria Borghese, Rome

Giuseppe Cesari was one of the most influential artists in Rome, and he recommended Caravaggio to Cesari, opening the door to his prestigious studio. Now, whilst the Cavalier d’ Arpino concentrated on frescoes, Caravaggio, as Baglione stated that he devoted himself to oil paintings. In addition to this, he was employed to paint flowers and fruit. And suddenly, the still life genre, which was fashionable in Lombardy, began to evolve through realistic representations. And Caravaggio showed natural elements in his first works of paintings as predominated. Boy with a Basket of Fruit showed the same thing here. 

Caravaggio Paintings Boy with a basket of fruits

The sensuality of the boy is easily visible. One of the significant things here is that there are slightly parted lips of the boy, which charges the painting with eroticism and a hidden message, for which Caravaggio paintings are commonly remembered. You have to note that this work is described in the modern term as more or less,

“from a sitting model.”

3. Rest During the Flight to Egypt.

MediumOil on canvas
Size130 x 160 cm
Where is it housed?Doria Gallery, Rome

This Caravaggio painting shows a sensuality emanating from the artist’s early works, which moves the spectator from its first look. Being his first masterpiece, Rest on the Flight to Egypt, showcases the soft and luminous landscape, which connects to the style of Giorgione, evoking a simple sensory impression of the outside world. There is a sense of darkness in the atmosphere when the serene skies reflect the calming waters, whereas the caress of light on the oak trees, cherry laurels, white poplars, marshland reeds, and the three-leaved brambles are surrounded by a delicate flair that creates harmony, a source of beauty to which the young artist had a sensitive eye. Moreover, the painting pays quite a lot of attention to the expression on the faces of the subject. 

Rest During the Flight to Egypt Caravaggio painting

Besides the bottle of wine next to Saint Joseph in Rest on the Flight into Egypt, another feature that distinguishes Caravaggio’s work is the Verbascum or mullein. Through the unexpected presence of the angel musician playing the violin, Caravaggio conveys poetry, seeming to convey the hypothesis of reflecting inner images of the dream-like world of this painter who was sensitive to music.

4. Supper at Emmaus.

MediumOil on canvas
Size141 x 196.2 cm
Where is it housed?National Gallery, London

The Supper at Emmaus has a very interesting story behind it. During the depressing and strenuous years in exile, the artist wandered from place to place. In 1605, the artist resided in Genoa, and the following year, he returned to Rome, where he continued to paint due to his influential Roman protectors who supported him with commissions for new works. Now, the Romans gave him the second commission, Supper at Emmaus. We understand that the artist had a very distressing life which is even reflected in his artwork, especially in Supper at Emmaus, David and Goliath, and Saint Jerome Writing. The despairing pessimism and mental distress are clearly visible here. 

Supper at Emmaus Caravaggio paintings

Here, the innkeeper wearing a hat is probably an eminent associate of the painter, possibly Cardinal Barberini, the Cavalier Marino, or even Alof de Wignacourt, though we are not hundred percent sure. We see how this painting liberates Caravaggio from the conventions of religious iconography by representing the saints and biblical figures as realists and humans.

5. The Incredulity of Saint Thomas.

MediumOil on canvas
Size107 x 146 cm
Where is it housed?Schloss Sanssouci in Potsdam

The painting was originally in the collection of Marchese Giustiniani. According to Baglione, Caravaggio painted the composition for Ciriaco Mattei, in which he depicted the apostle as he touched the side of the risen Christ through his finger. Also, J. Meyer mentioned that the painting disappeared and was once exhibited in the Palazzo, Giustiniani, but it is now in the Schloss Sanssouci in Potsdam. 

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas Caravaggio famous paintings

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas portrays the Lord grabbing the hand of Saint Thomas and taking the saint’s finger to his wound while uncovering his chest by lifting the shroud covering him. Being one of the most significant Caravaggio paintings, based on The Old Testament, it shows religious iconography with realist and humanism forms.

6. The Crowning With Thorns.

MediumOil on canvas
Size127 x 166.5 cm
Where is it housed?Kunshistoriches Museum, Vienna

Before we learn anything about the artwork, let me tell you that it is a different work of art, which Caravaggio created to the Roman paintings mentioned. The 127 cm high by 166 cm wide Caravaggio painting depicts the savior with his hands tied between two half-length figures of turbaned and armored soldiers. In contrast with the Gospel description, Caravaggio’s depiction emphasizes the brutality of the scene. According to Matthew (27:30), only the soldiers hit Christ with a cane on the head. 

Caravaggio painting The Crowning With Thorns

On Christ’s head, and on the shoulders, chest, and hands of both henchmen, contour lines engraved with the stem of the brush prove the painting’s authenticity. The vivid expressions with the extraordinary use of lightening and shadows do confirm the artist’s style and detail in the artwork.

7. Crucifixion of Saint Peter.

MediumOil on canvas
Size230 x 175 cm
Where is it housed?Cerasi Chapel, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome

One of the significant things about this Caravaggio painting is that it was refused by his commissioner, who destined it for the Cerasi Chapel. The calm yellow light falls across the painting, illuminating some of the portions of the canvas. Three men labourously raise the wooden cross of the crucifixion with an enormous force. The entire picture speaks an earthy task of erecting the cross, and the moment is palpable. With a stark barbarity of moment, sharp contrasts, and light, the image constructs a reality. Also, the posture of the laborer at the rear as he arches his back to pull the rope creates a line in the shape of an S, which flows through the entire picture. This shape forms a significant structure to the image, and it holds everything together, including the situation. The crouched figure at the front is like a compressed spring, which next releases upwards, thrusting the cross upright.

Crucifixion of Saint Peter one of the Caravaggio paintings

8. The Entombment of Christ.

MediumOil on canvas
Size300 x 203 cm
Where is it housed?Pinacoteca, Musei Vaticani, Vatican

The Burial of Christ at the Vatican, considered a masterpiece of the artist, seems to retreat into a statuesque gravity and an atmosphere similar to Michelangelo’s – even the play of light seems to be less dramatic and more measured. Originally, executed for the Church of Santa Maria in Vallicella, the painting is regarded as Caravaggio’s masterpiece. 

Caravaggio painting The Entombment of Christ

A religious idea that is present in this composition is the descent to hell and ascent to heaven. When Christ was crucified, he was buried and descended to hell for three days in order to save those who would otherwise go to hell. The artwork hence takes this iconography in the form of symbolism. For instance, Christ’s hand touches the earth, associated with hell, whereas a figure in the back raises her hands to the sky, associated with heaven.

9. The Fortune Teller.

Year1595 (1st version) 1595-98 (2nd version)
MediumOil on canvas
Size115 x 150 cm (1st version) and 99x 131 cm (2nd version)
Where is it housed?Musei Capitolini, Rome and Musee du Louvre, Paris

In 1593, when Caravaggio entered the studio of the painter Giuseppe Cesari d’Arpino; he found various connections to the artistic circles in the Eternal City. And Cesari left many of his fresco works in the Trinita de Manti in the chapel of the Palazzo di Monte Cavallo, where his best work was in the Capella Olgiati in San Prassede. Now, in the Capella Contarelli in San Luigi de’ Francesi, where Cesari started frescoes, Caravaggio became his successor. The artist studied every work of his master with diligence and emulated Michelangelo Buonarotti. This is where he undertook the painting of the sign of his brother Frangiabigio Angelo’s perfumery, which further developed in the genre of painting. This is what we see in this painting, The Fortune Teller.

Caravaggio painting The Fortune Teller

The Fortune Teller portrays a pretentiously dressed boy while having his palm read by a gypsy girl. There is an expression of anticipation on the boy’s face as he gazes into her face. 

Caravaggio painted two versions of the painting. And there are several demarcating factors here. For instance, in the second version, the light falls more radiantly, and the cloth of the boy’s doublet and the girl’s sleeves are more fine textured. Also, the boy has more childlike and innocently vulnerable features with the girl commanding the situation.

10. The Cardsharps.

MediumOil on canvas
Size94.2 x 130.9 cm
Where is it housed?Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth

The Cardsharps is the artist’s most famous bambocciate, although his biographers fail to mention it. As this is one of the Caravaggio paintings evidently portraying a demonic terror within the subject, which is evidently highlighted in this work, what matters more is the strength of expression of the figures, which Caravaggio almost seems to have sculpted, disregarding the surrounding landscape. There are half-length figures in the painting, which is on a coarse canvas. A significant change took place in the artist’s work after the Baroque art movement in Rome, which forced him to move beyond his Venetian roots. Despite the fact that the fine coloring and the sweetness of the young faces can be seen in his earlier techniques, the neutral background of dark green and black, as well as the attempt to emphasize the forms with the light, indicates the new direction of Caravaggio’s work strongly.

Famous Caravaggio paintings The Cardsharps

11. The Calling of St Matthew.

MediumOil on canvas
Size322.4 x 340.4 cm
Where is it housed?Contarelli Chapel, Church of San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome

Caravaggio began painting in the summer of 1599, but he was experienced as a large-scale painter. The artwork painted walls were of San Luiji and close to three and a half meters wide and high as some ten feet square. The full-length figures were life-size, and the artist never painted such a big painting. The use of Contarelli’s painting shows an extreme and unnatural use of light and dark with an entire dramatic effect against the darkness.

Caravaggio paintings The Calling of St Matthew

Figures are depicted in shallow-dark spaces with horizontal and diagonal beams of light emerging emphatically from the Caravaggio painting, The Calling of Saint Matthew. There are beams of light shining in the upper right corner of the entire scene, creating chiaroscuro patterns on the figures. Chiaroscuro is an Italian word that means creating a dramatic effect by contrasting light and dark. This scene illustrates the weighted effect as a result of the counterpoise between light and dim.

12. Death of the Virgin.

MediumOil on canvas
Size369 x 245 cm
Where is it housed?Louvre, Paris

Caravaggio’s technique and method of painting here put up a great impression as there is a new concept of reality mixed with the spiritual content, which first awakes curiosity and then admiration in the viewer’s eye. This Caravaggio painting is a beauty of work with a splendid red curtain and oblique light transversing the auburn shadows. However, the most fascinating thing besides the terrific choice of colors and perfect composture of figures is the emotional force that Caravaggio put in this painting.

Caravaggio painting Death of the Virgin

The artwork Death of the Virgin was opposed by the clergy of S. Maria della Scala, as they allegedly hated how Caravaggio represented the mother of Christ in her death as a poor woman surrounded by barefoot old-men. A conscious awareness of the mystery of death and resurrection tempered and elevated this social realism in many artists, priests, and laymen, who were privy, to see a painting must have felt that Caravaggio expresses their emotions more eloquently than any other artist could.

13. David With the Head of Goliath.

MediumOil on canvas
Size121 x 101 cm
Where is it housed?Borghese Gallery, Rome

During the years between 1600 and 1606, when Caravaggio’s violent actions are widely reported, he is at his most productive artistically and at his most powerful creatively. In six and a half years, he painted in a continuous sequence of his most significant religious compositions: the Crucifixion of St. Peter, the Conversion of St. Paul, and the Death of the Virgin. Aside from these major Caravaggio paintings, the several other pictures during this period are the St. Jerome Writing and the beautiful David with the Head of Goliath in the Borghese Gallery.

David with the Head of Goliath Famous Caravaggio paintings

Caravaggio painted a half-figure of David for Cardinal Scipione Borghese. David holds Goliath’s head by its hair in a self-portrait. As a bareheaded youth, David holds his sword by the hilt with one shoulder out of his shirt. To give Caravaggio’s figures and compositions the force they always needed, the color is of the boldest depths and shadows. 

14. St Jerome Writing.

MediumOil on canvas
Size112 x 157 cm
Where is it housed?Borghese Gallery

Caravaggio’s Borghese Saint Jerome is a characteristic work of his late Roman years. Saint Jerome Writing was created about the same time as the beautiful David for Scipione Borghese and is stylistically similar in that the light is fluidly used, the bodies are kept within a receding enclosed space, and the movement toward the viewer is evident but very subtle. As with the eyeglasses in The Calling of St Matthew, Saint Peter in the Crucifixion, and The Attendant in the Conversion, the bearded old man with his bald head slanting a bit forward is a continuation of similar types in Caravaggio’s earlier work. He stands almost in the center of the Death of the Virgin of 1605, where the Apostle, with his long beard, stands closest to his head.

Saint Jerome Writing Caravaggio paintings

15. Madonna and Child With St. Anne.

MediumOil on canvas
Size292 x 211 cm
Where is it housed?Borghese Gallery

An important theological concept was presented in a humanized manner, depicting St. Anne, the personification of divine grace, as passive detachment. The Virgin was painted with the same model Caravaggio had used for the Madonna of Loreto (or dei Pellegrini) in Sant’Agostino.

Madonna and Child With St. Anne Caravaggio painting

In hindsight, it is an atypical depiction of the Virgin for its time and probably shocked some contemporary viewers. As she holds her son, the Virgin tramples a snake, a symbol of evil or original sin, with the help of her son. Saint Anne, whose painting is to be honored, is an old, wrinkled grandmother who observes this event. As the snake bounces off the halo, shaky halos crown the rack.


Caravaggio abandoned the entire concept of the idealized types of the Baroque and adopted the humanitarian approach to the dramatic situation. At first, Caravaggio painted still life which became enormously popular due to his inventiveness to give the object lifelikeness. And in later periods, he portrayed human beings, caught in the moment of drama with sharper strokes of light. We saw through his paintings how his distinctive quality of chiaroscuro presented the abstracted nature, which later influenced the supernatural visions of Ribera and the Spanish school. 

As you have now seen some of the Caravaggio paintings, let me know which profoundly touched you in the comments below.


1. All the Paintings of Caravaggio, Volume Seven in Complete Library of World Art.

2. Caravaggio by Felix Witting.

Frequently Asked Questions.

What was Caravaggio famous for?

Caravaggio was famous for the lifelikeness of the genre art in his early days and then realism and humanitarian approach with heightened dramatic expressions and theatrical lightening. He abandoned the perfect figures of baroque art for the subject and used the realistic technique to replace his subjects with human figures.

Where are Caravaggio’s most famous paintings?

Most of the famous paintings of Caravaggio are in the Borghese Gallery. The early artworks, which became popular were Sick Bacchus and Boy with a Basket of Fruit. Other paintings from his later life were David with the head of Goliath (1609-1610), St Jerome Writing (1605), Madonna and Child with St. Anne (1605), Calling of St Matthew.

What was Caravaggio’s masterpiece?

Caravaggio is widely known for his contribution to Italian Baroque art and discovering a new style often regarded as extreme in a few cases. Some of the most important Caravaggio masterpieces known to the world are Young Sick Bacchus, The Calling of Saint Matthew, Saint Jerome Writing, David With the Head of Goliath, The Card Sharps and more.

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