Charting the phenomenon of Caravaggism through the work of his contemporaries and followers.
Watch our video tour of the exhibition at its showing at the National Gallery in London.
Caravaggio never established a workshop so there was no school to spread his techniques, he also never publicly set out his approach to art. And yet his distinctive style – intense naturalism, dramatic close-ups and powerful contrasts in light and dark – was embraced by artists across Europe, both during his lifetime and in the years that followed his death.
This exhibition explores the many international iterations of the 'Caravaggisti' – those who championed the Italian's talents and sought to recreate the key elements of his work. It includes painters as diverse as Orazio Gentileschi, Valentin de Boulogne and Gerrit van Honthorst.Gentileschi, Valentin de Boulogne and Gerrit van Honthorst.
Caravaggio first found fame in Rome in 1600, winning praise from his first commission. As his success skyrocketed, patrons fought to secure his craftmanship and his peers began to emulate his aesthetic. However in 1606 the artist had to flee to Naples – he had killed a man in a brawl and there was a death sentence on his head – where he could start afresh. The commissions he produced here were just as celebrated, and had a profound effect on local practice.
Caravaggism wasn't limited to Italy; as artists from across Europe flocked to Rome for inspiration, his popularity soon spread far and wide. Perhaps most notably was a group from Utrecht, who were so dazzled by the painter's work that they advocated his practices to their contemporaries and teachers back at home.
It is thought that this is how Rembrandt – who never visited Italy – became acquainted with Caravaggio's style. There are also examples of Caravaggisti formations in Belgium, France and Spain. Bringing together an array of Caravaggio-inspired pieces, the gallery reveals the vast range of way his followers reinterpreted his work.