Michelangelo Mersi was born at Caravaggio in Lombardy on September 28, 1573. His childhood was lived in a quite atmosphere in the small town located between Brescia and Milan. Caravaggio became orphaned at a very young age, and coincidentally was sent to Milan to study painting. This is where his career started. During the Eighteen years between his arrival in Rome and his death, Caravaggio enjoyed the pleasures of being a young artist. He enjoyed the triumph of a success, the travel of lands unknown, and unfortunately disgrace, exile, and a solitary death. Caravaggio, being exceptionally intelligent, had the ability to create an ample environment for success. He was able, through some trial and tribulations, to feel comfort with protection from patrons, and from generous pay. Unfortunately Caravaggio was alienated from the world. His personality conflicted with most of the times morals, values and laws. Being sexually ambiguous and badly behaved he became disliked and dis-respected.
With that aside, Caravaggio painted some of the most moving pictures. Through the use of his revolutionary techniques of lighting, Caravaggio became a recognized painter of the Baroque period. Discarding the traditional rendering of religious subject matter, Caravaggio brought to his paintings a sense of reality. In his paintings he simplifies the classical religious themes and breaks them down into something that could have taken place anywhere, at any time within the common society. This became an issue with his viewers. His viewpoint portrayed in his art became somewhat controversial. Many did not believe that a religious subject should be brought down to reflect common society. This style of representing nature and events that happen in nature was a fundamental skill learned during his apprenticeship with Peterzano, a Milanese painter. This is where Caravaggio’s formal artistic education began.
During Caravaggio’s time in Milan he was probably exposed too much of the rawness of life.Milan, being a distinguished lawless city, became a catalyst for Caravaggios soon acquired taste for violence, disrespect for authority, and the acquired portrayal of sexuality throughout his work.
Much of Caravaggio’s work raised questions concerning the content and intellectual processes that he used to formulate his work. Many believed that far more content was concealed within his work than meet the “naked” eye. Caravaggio painted pretty straightforward images that raised questions about the concealed symbolic meaning.
This apparent symbolism can be seen in many of his paintings. For example, The Bacchus, Goliath, Sick Bacchus, and Boy with a Basket of Fruit, to name a few.
In many of Caravaggios works he offers his audience a head. Many of these heads were believed to be painted with of own features. As seen on the bloody head of Goliath, which David so adversely thrusts out into the viewers space. This not being the sole example, we can see this depiction in Judith with the Head of Holofernes, Depiction of St. John the Baptist, and Salome receiving the head of St. John the Baptist. This use of a self-portrait became a very interesting topic for many researchers and Art historians. The depiction of violence connected to Caravaggio left question to his train of thought and his emotional stability.
An even more controversial subject than his violent depicted self-portraits are the “provocative, seducing, erotically soliciting, gazes,” that Caravaggio produced. This can be seen prominently in the early Sick Bacchus. Caravaggios head is rested in a provocative pose, which was to be read as a seduction to the viewer. It seems, through investigation, that Caravaggio had become enthralled in the act of painting “come-ons.”
Although, his intent probably being fallacies, Caravaggio had a magnificent way to hinder a viewers though process, by creating ambiguity. In two of his paintings Sick Bacchus and Boy with a basket of fruit, the erotic invitation somewhat becomes ambiguous by creating a retreat. This retreat, as seen in the Sick Bacchus, is described by a movement of an arm or a shoulder, which could be described as a concealment of the very advances that lend to invite his viewers into the world of erotica.
An interesting Phenomenon comes into play when you take into consideration the effect of a come-on and the consequence of a retreat of that come-on. This is an ironical treatment of a subject that in turn can argue that a movement away from a come-on is fascinating and creates questions on the figures apparent availability. The Sick Bacchus ironically solicits frustration to its audience.
Another interesting aspect becomes focused on the idea of withdrawal and retreat. Investigation into the painting can serve as an avenue which investigates the withdraw not only as a concealment of sexuality, but as a redirection of the viewers eye. The redirection can be placed on the even more symbolic but still ambiguous objects in the painting. The sash and the fruit can describe these. Again relating back to the content of the picture, we ask ourselves, is this of phallic nature? And in most conclusions we can say that, yes, these objects have been strategically placed to lend to the enticement of the viewer. Grapes, for instance, seen as a personification of human enticement. Personifying wealth, prosperity and sexuality. The peach, personification of a back end, heightens the intensity of sexuality and fallacies. The sash strategically placed to reveal the luciousness of the Bacchus. These subjects are all tools used to seduce the viewer,
In contrast to the portrayal of a provocatively exposed body, the table seen creates a formal position, which contrasts greatly with the Bacchus. But the table, representing a look somewhat like that of a tombstone, compliments the green hue of the Bacchus skin, as well as the representation of the sick Bacchus.
Caravaggio’s uses of symbolism in his work helped him create a name for himself. The ability to read his paintings from so many angles, like in the Sick Bacchus, is what has helped keep Caravaggio and his art alive. His ability to incorporate so many aspects into his work through symbolism and indirtectness, in some cases can be noted a s ingenious. Much of Caravaggios is a dissection on the meaning and conditions of knowledge. He can be explained as a “phenomenon which his contemporaries feared, admired, and did not understand (Kitson 9).” His works speak through the visible, but they speak the invisible, they focus on mans body, but their interests is in his spirit and in his soul (Abrams 46).”