The Caravaggisti (or "Caravagesques") were stylistic followers of the 16th century Italian Baroque painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. His influence on the new Baroque style that eventually emerged from Mannerism was profound. Caravaggio never established a workshop as most other painters did, and thus had no school to spread his techniques. Nor did he ever set out his underlying philosophical approach to art, the psychological realism which can only be deduced from his surviving work. But it can be seen directly or indirectly in the work of Rubens, Jusepe de Ribera, Bernini, and Rembrandt. Famous while he lived, Caravaggio himself was forgotten almost immediately after his death. Many of his paintings were reascribed to his followers, such as the The Taking of Christ, which was attributed to Honthorst until 1990. It was only in the 20th century that his importance to the development of Western art was rediscovered. In the 1920s Roberto Longhi once more placed him in the European tradition: "Ribera, Vermeer, La Tour and Rembrandt could never have existed without him. And the art of Delacroix, Courbet and Manet would have been utterly different". The influential Bernard Berenson stated: "With the exception of Michelangelo, no other Italian painter exercised so great an influence."
At the height of his popularity in Rome during the late 1590s and early 17th century, Caravaggios dramatic new style influenced many of his peers in the Roman art world. The first Caravaggisti included Mario Minniti, Giovanni Baglione (although his Caravaggio phase was short-lived), Leonello Spada and Orazio Gentileschi. In the next generation there were Carlo Saraceni, Bartolomeo Manfredi and Orazio Borgianni. Gentileschi, despite being considerably older, was the only one of these artists to live much beyond 1620, and ended up as court painter to Charles I of England. His daughter Artemisia Gentileschi was also close to Caravaggio, and one of the most gifted of the movement. Yet in Rome and in Italy it was not Caravaggio, but the influence of Annibale Carracci, blending elements from the High Renaissance and Lombard realism, which ultimately triumphed.
In May 1606 after the killing of Ranuccio Tomassoni, Caravaggio fled to Naples with a death sentence on his head. While there he completed several commissions, two major ones being the Madonna of the Rosary, and The Seven Works of Mercy. His work had a profound effect on the local artists and his brief stay in Naples produced a notable school of Neapolitan Caravaggisti, including Battistello Caracciolo, Bernardo Cavallino, Carlo Sellitto and Massimo Stanzione. The Caravaggisti movement there ended with a terrible outbreak of plague in 1656, but at the time Naples was a possession of Spain and the influence of Caravaggism had already spread there.
In the early 17th century Catholic artists from the Netherlands travelled to Rome as students and were profoundly influenced by the work of Caravaggio. On their return to the north this group, known as the "Utrecht Caravaggisti", had a short-lived but influential flowering in the 1620s among painters like Hendrick ter Brugghen, Gerrit van Honthorst, Andries Both and Dirck van Baburen. The brief flourishing of Utrecht Caravaggism ended around 1630, when major artists had either died, as in the case of Baburen and Terbrugghen, or had changed style, like Honthorst's shift to portraiture and history scenes informed by the Flemish tendencies popularized by Rubens and his followers. In the following generation the effects of Caravaggio, although attenuated, are to be seen in the work of Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Gerrit Dou's "niche paintings".
During his 1600 trip to Italy, Peter Paul Rubens was also influenced by the highly naturalistic paintings of Caravaggio. He made a copy of the Entombment of Christ, recommended that his patron, the Duke of Mantua, purchase The Death of the Virgin (Louvre), and was instrumental in the acquisition of The Madonna of the Rosary (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna) for the Dominican church in Antwerp. Other Flemish artists of the early 17th century also show signs of direct exposure to Caravaggio's work, including Adam de Coster, Theodoor Rombouts and Gerard Seghers.
One of the first French artists to studio in Rome during the caravaggio years was Jean LeClerc, who studied under Saraceni during the early 17th century. Simon Vouet spent an extensive period of time in Italy, from 1613 to 1627. His patrons included the Barberini family, Cassiano dal Pozzo, Paolo Giordano Orsini and Vincenzo Giustiniani. He also visited other parts of Italy: Venice; Bologna, (where the Carracci family had their academy); Genoa, (where from 1620 to 1622, he worked for the Doria princes); and Naples. He absorbed what he saw and distilled it in his painting: Caravaggio's dramatic lighting; Italian Mannerism; Paolo Veronese's color and di sotto in su or foreshortened perspective; and the art of Carracci, Guercino, Lanfranco and Guido Reni. Vouet's success in Rome led to his election as president of the Accademia di San Luca in 1624. Despite his success in Rome, Vouet returned to France in 1627. Vouet's new style was distinctly Italian, importing the Italian Baroque style into France. Other French artists enamored by the new style included Valentin de Boulogne, who was living in Rome by 1620, and studied under Vouet and later Boulognes pupil Nicolas Tournier.
Georges de La Tour is assumed to have travelled either to Italy or the Netherlands early in his career. His paintings reflect the influence of Caravaggio, but this probably reached him through the Dutch Caravaggisti and other Northern (French and Dutch) contemporaries. In particular, La Tour is often compared to the Hendrick Terbrugghen.
Francisco Ribalta became among the first followers in Spain of the tenebrist style. It is unclear if he directly visited either Rome or Naples, where Caravaggio's style had many adherents, although through its Naples connection Spain was probably already exposed to Caravaggisim by the early 17th century. His son Juan Ribalta, Vicente Castelló and Jusepe de Ribera are said to have been his pupils, although it is entirely possible that Ribera acquired his tenebrism when he moved to Italy. The style garnered a number of adherents in Spain, and was to influence the Baroque or Golden Age Spanish painters, especially Zurbarán, Velázquez and Murillo. Even the art of still life in Spain, the bodegón was often painted in a similar stark and austere style.
- Harr, Jonathan (2005). The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece. Random House. ISBN 0-375-50801-5.
- Roberto Longhi, quoted in Lambert, op. cit., p.15
- Bernard Berenson, in Lambert, op. cit., p.8
- Catherine Puglisi (1998). Caravaggio. Phaidon. ISBN 0-7148-3966-3.
- Caravaggisten in the RKD.
- Belkin (1998): 59.
- Brejon de Lavergnée, Barbara. 'Simon Vouet', Oxford Art Online.
- Anthony Blunt, "Art and Architecture in France, 1500–1700", 1953, Penguin
- Figures of reality. French Caravaggisti, Georges de La Tour, the Le Nain brothers
- Cleaning of Caravaggisti paintings confirms attributions
- Zurbarán, an exhibition catalog from The Metropolitan Museum of Art (fully available online as PDF), which contains material on Caravaggisti (see index)
- Jusepe de Ribera, 1591-1652, an exhibition catalog from The Metropolitan Museum of Art (fully available online as PDF), which contains material on Caravaggisti (see index)