Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610), often short Caravaggio after his hometown, was an Italian Baroque painter, whose large religious works portrayed saints and other biblical figures as ordinary people.
Though these paintings were controversial in the church, the wealthy purchased them for their drama, their spectacular technical accomplishment, their startling originality, and even their brazen homoeroticism. In his private life he is notorious for adventures with both men and women. He cruises the taverns and often has mix-ups with the police. Finally, in 1606 he is accused of murder and flees to Rome, where he dies of a fever before a pardon from the pope can reach him.
"The painters then in Rome were greatly taken by this novelty, and the young ones particularly gathered around him, praised him as the unique imitator of nature, and looked on his work as miracles. They outdid each other in imitating his works, undressing their models and raising their lights." óGiovanni Pietro Bellori, 1672.
It would be hard to overestimate the impact that Caravaggio's innovations had upon painters of his generation and the generations that followed. His gritty realism, his choice of models, his theatrical lighting, his "night paintings" the rich passages of still life, his eye for color
A short list of artists who owe much to his stylistic breakthroughs would have to include Orazio Gentileschi and his daughter Artemisia Gentileschi, Georges de La Tour, Ribera.
A group of Catholic artists from Utrecht, the "Utrecht Caravaggisti" travelled to Rome as students in the first years of the 17th century and were profoundly influenced by the work of Caravaggio, as Bellori describes. On their return to the north this trend had a short-lived but intense development in the 1620s among painters like Hendrick ter Brugghen, Gerrit van Honthorst Andries Both and Dirck van Baburen. In the following generation less intense effects of Caravaggio can be traced even in Rubens, Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Velazquez, who likely saw his work during his various sojourns in Italy.
In modern times, contemporary painters like the Norwegian Odd Nerdrum and the Romanian Tibor Csernus make no secret of their attempts to emulate and update his work. Perhaps no single artist in the entire Western canon, outside of Giotto and Massacio, had so much influence beyond his time.