Michelangelo Merisi born 29 September 1571 in Caravaggio, a little market town in Bergamo, or perhaps in Milan. His mother, Lucia Aratori, is the second wife of Fermo, magister (architect-decorator and site overseer) to Franceso Sforza I, Marchese di Caravaggio. His brother Battista, who became a priest, is born a year later. Early childhood in Milan. Plague drives his family back to Caravaggio, where it claims his father and uncle. 1583: death of the Marchese di Caravaggio. Caravaggio's family suffers extreme poverty. 1576: death of Titian. 1581: Domenichino born. 1584: Frans Hals born.
1584-1595 At thirteen, Caravaggio returns to Milan and enters the studio of Simone Peterzano, an established painter and "pupil of Titian" The contract is approved by Prince Colonna. Peterzano, like the Campi brothers, is attracted to a more realistic style at odds with the prevailing Mannerism. A new style is born in Lombardy, whose influence the young apprentice feels. The great period of Renaissance painting is at an end. Pope Sixtus V is open to new trends in art. 1593: Georges de La Tour born 1594: Nicolas Poussin born.
1595-1598 Caravaggio, having acquired exceptional technical facility in Peterzano's studio, leaves for Rome, the cultural capital of the world. His itinerary is not known, but he no doubt sees Masaccio's frescoes, Lotto's paintings, the works of the great Venetians, such as Giorgione, and the frescoes of Niccolo dell'Abbate at Bologna. He also sees the drawings of Sofonisba Anguis- ciola at Cremona. He is given lodging by a Cardinal of doubtful morals. First works, all profane: Boy Bitten by a Lizard, Boy Peeling Fruit, Boy with a Vase of Roses, and the Concert, also called The Musicians, which includes a first self-portrait. Falls ill, recov- ers miraculously, and in his convalescence paints the Ill Bacchus, a second self-portrait. Acquires a powerful patron, Cardinal del Monte. He paints a woman for the first time, the Repentant Magdalene, followed by a Fortune Teller, and a second Bacchus in better health than the first.Has his first brushes with justice. Paints the famous Basket of Fruit (now in Milan).
1598-1600 Religious subjects: the Sacrifice of Isaac, The Ecstasy of Saint Francis, and others. 1598: Zurburan born. 1599: Velazquez born. 1600: Claude Lorrain born.
1600-1604 Two great commissions in which Caravaggio's powers are revealed: San Luigi dei Francesi (the Vocation and Martyrdom of Saint Matthew) and Santa Maria del Popolo (the Crucifixion of Saint Peter and the Conversion of Saint Paul Both are highly controversial, as is The Death of the Virgin (Louvre), modelled by a prostitute. A Madonna for Saint Peter's is refused. Caravaggio wounds a lawyer in a fight over a prostitute, and fees to Genoa. Major religious paintings. In April 1604, a melée at the Albergo del Moro caused by Caravaggio. He is accused of murdering a police sergeant. Arrested and tortured, he is helped to escape
1605-1607 Madonna di Loreto. 29 May 1606 (the police report has survived), Caravaggio kills one Tommasoni after accusing him of cheating at royal tennis. Wanted for murder, he escapes from Rome in disguise. He is banished: any representative of the law may kill him on the spot. Finds refuge in the territory of Prince Colonna. Late in 1606, goes to Naples. Wel comed there, he paints a Resurrection, a Flagellation, the Seven Works of Mercy and the Madonna of the Rosary; the latter alienates the Dominicans. He is an object of adulation. But the Pope's on is slow to come. Leaves Naples for Malta. 1606: Rembrandt born.
1607-1608 He wants to become a knight. believing this will facilitate his pardon. In Malta, paints major works for Valetta Cathedral and two? portraits of the Master of the order. He is made a Knight of Saint John. But a further indiscretion lands him in prison, he is expelled from the Order, and is again forced to flee.
1608-1609 He disembarks in Syracuse (Sicily), and goes to Messina and Palermo. In the despair of exile, racked with illness. he paints intensely moving works: a Resurrection of Lazarus, a Nativity, and an Ecce Homo. In late 1609, he decides to return to Naples 1609: A. Carracci dies.
1609-1610 This second Naples period was one of superlative works, including a last Saint John the Baptist, and a Martyrdom of Saint Ursula in which death is depicted, as if Caravaggio knew that he was doomed. An attempt on his life. News of his death spreads; in fact, he has left Naples, though wounded He disembarks near Rome, at Porto Ercole, then occupied by the Spanish army. His body is found on the beach. He was not yet forty.
Source: Gilles Lambert, Caravaggio 1571- 1610, A Genius Beyond His Time, TASCHEN