Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was the greatest Italian painter of his time. He had a huge influence on his contemporaries - not just in Italy, but throughout Western Europe. In addition to his artistic achievements, he is famous for his violent character.
Caravaggio was born in Milan, but he grew up in the nearby town of Caravaggio, from where he takes his name, and worked mainly in Rome.
His early paintings included playfully homoerotic scenes for private collectors. However, in 1599 he received his first commission for public religious paintings, three scenes from the life of St Matthew, and from this time he concentrated on such works. He changed his approach as well as his subjects, for his religious works are deeply serious in spirit. In 1606 he fled Rome after killing a man and spent the remainder of his brief career in southern Italy.
Caravaggio's work was powerfully original. He imagined the familiar religious stories in a completely fresh way, bringing them to life by depicting solid, realistic, earthy people rather than the traditional beautiful, remote figures. He increased their impact by using dramatic contrasts of light and shade. Many painters imitated Caravaggio's style, but few matched him in grandeur or depth of feeling.