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Why Was Michelangelo Merisi Called Caravaggio?


Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was a notable Italian painter of the late 16th and early 17th centuries; he is renowned for his chiaroscuro/tenebrism technique which had a formative influence on the Baroque painting style. He began his art training in Milan before emigrating to Rome in 1592.

Caravaggio lived out most of his artistic career in Rome until a murder case drove him to Naples. The artist was notorious for his brawling tendencies, one of which led to the death of a man named Ranuccio Tomassoni. After he fled Rome, painter Caravaggio spent his final years shuttling between Naples, Malta, and Sicily and eventually died in 1610 under unclear circumstances; he was only 38.

His artistry is characterized by its masterful combination of realistic human depictions and bold use of light and shadows, elements that created his legacy and influenced other artists called the “Caravaggisti.” Although he wasn’t always referred to as Caravaggio, he assumed the identity later in his career.

In this article, we are looking at the artist Caravaggio and how he adopted his famous mononym. Let’s dive in to learn about Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio.

An Artist Was Born

On September 29, 1571, Michelangelo Merisi was born in Milan, Italy. He was the first of four children born to Fermo Merisi, a local administrator, and his wife, Lucia Aratori. The Merisi’s enjoyed certain privileges because of their ties to Milan’s highly influential Sforza clan.

After the bubonic plague hit Milan, the family moved east to a town in Lombardy called Caravaggio in 1576. While in Caravaggio, Fermo worked as an architect-decorator to the Marchese, but he, unfortunately, succumbed to the plague the following year, along with Caravaggio’s uncle and grandfather.

At 13, Caravaggio began his art training in Milan with a local painter called Simone Peterzano. In addition to learning the fundamentals of his master’s craft, Caravaggio became familiar with Milan’s art style of rich simplicity and naturalistic detail. After his 4-year apprenticeship under Perterzano, the young artist moved to Rome in 1592 to further begin his career.

Caravaggio’s early years in Rome were difficult; without the necessary resources, his career didn’t have the smooth takeoff he had anticipated. He took up hackwork painting fruit and flowers for Giuseppe Cesari, a successful artist and a favorite of the Pope.

Progression of the Work

Caravaggio was dissatisfied with his work for Cesari, and as a result, he quit in 1594. Determined to create a successful career for himself, he started painting miniature still-lifes, genre scenes, and evocative portraits of young boys such as Sick Bacchus and Boy With a Basket of Fruit for the free market.

His first taste of success came with The Cardsharps; the painting became so popular that it was imitated severally and eventually caught the attention of a wealthy art collector called Cardinal del Monte. In addition to acquiring some of Caravaggio’s works, Del Monte used his influence to secure notable public commissions for the artist.

The first of these commissions came in 1599 with Counter-Reformation Rome bustling with opportunities for artists to protest the threat of Protestantism with their art. Caravaggio was commissioned to complete a series of paintings for the Contarelli Chapel in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi. Most of Caravaggio famous paintings were to depict the life of Saint Matthew, the biblical disciple of Jesus.

Caravaggio’s art became hugely successful, attracting the admiration of several notable patrons and fellow artists alike. He was considered a success among the Roman elite and received steady commissions in the following years. He became so successful that between 1600 and 1606, he was labeled the “most famous painter in Rome.” At this height of fame, some of Caravaggio’s famous paintings were produced.


In addition to its intense realism, another prominent feature in Caravaggio’s artistry is the depiction of anguish and death through the repeated use of skulls and macabre imagery. These disturbing scenes are reflected in several of his famous paintings, including Saint Francis in Prayer and Judith Beheading Holofernes.

The violent struggles in Caravaggio’s works paralleled the kind of hard life he lived. Beneath his successful career, Caravaggio was a man of ill repute, often described as “rebellious and dangerous.” He was well known for his bad temper and lack of consideration for others, constantly getting into brawls and other crimes.

From writing libelous poems to committing various forms of assault on people, He had a lengthy police record, going on trial at least 11 times for many misconducts. However, the height of his crimes was his altercation with Ranuccio Tomassoni which resulted in the latter’s death. This event marred Caravaggio’s reputation in Rome, and he escaped to Naples as a fugitive.

The Iconic Name

Born on September 29, the famous artist was named Michelangelo by his parents because his birthdate was on the feast day of Archangel Michael. The name is believed to be of Italian origin and combines the name “Michael” and the word “Angel.”

Because of the bubonic plague that ravaged Milan, his family moved to Caravaggio when the artist was only four years old, and as a result, he grew up in the town. The farming community became an inspiration for the young artist as he matured, and he subsequently adopted the name “Caravaggio” as his own.

As the artist became more successful in his career, Caravaggio gained ascendancy over his birth name. Additionally, even though he was based in Rome, his reputation popularized the Italian town, which became a city in December 1954.

The Teatro Amerighi was a theater named in honor of the artist’s family. Before its destruction during the Second World War, it was the city’s most notable cultural and social hotspot for decades.


Without a doubt, the name Caravaggio immediately brings artistic brilliance to the minds of art lovers all around the world. The iconic mononym has become synonymous with masterful craftsmanship with famous paintings that reflect genius and skill.

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