Caravaggio was a Baroque artist and the greatest Italian painter of the 17th century.
Michelangelo Merisi was born in September 1571 in Caravaggio, near Milan and was always known by the name of his hometown. In 1584, he was apprenticed for four years to Simone Peterzano, an artist working in Milan. Caravaggio moved to Rome in the early 1590s. He specialised in still lifes and later in half-length figures such as 'Boy with a Basket of Fruit'. An early patron was Cardinal del Monte, a leading art connoisseur in Rome.
It was probably through the Cardinal that in 1599 he obtained the commission to decorate the Contarelli Chapel in the French church in Rome with scenes from the life of St Matthew. These paintings were his first public work and they caused a sensation with their extreme realism and dramatic contrasts of light and shade. He then secured a string of prestigious commissions, many of them religious works.
Caravaggio seems to have lived a tempestuous life, frequently getting involved in brawls. In May 1606, during a game of racquets he quarrelled with his opponent and stabbed him to death. He was forced to flee Rome, settling in Naples and then travelling to Malta, Sicily and around southern Italy. Many of his paintings from this time are dark and melancholy, such as 'Salome Receives the Head of St John the Baptist'.
In 1609, Caravaggio was severely wounded in a brawl in a tavern in Naples. In 1610 he was pardoned for the murder he had committed in Rome but died of a fever in July of the same year.