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The Santa Maria Del Popolo Caravaggio Paintings Inspire All

The Santa Maria del Popolo Caravaggio paintings are among the most famous Caravaggio paintings in Rome and this small church offers a cool experience for free.

santa maria del popolo caravaggio paintings - Main Altar

Main Altar

While I have been a fan of photography for as long as I can remember, my interest and appreciation for other forms of art have grown considerably since moving to Rome. My favorite style is still realism and I am happy to ignore more modern and abstract art, but living in Rome offers an amazing opportunity to enjoy works from the greatest artists in history, and one of my favorites is Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio.

The Parish Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo

This is a minor basilica in Rome that is run by the Augustinians. It is within the Aurelian walls and just inside one of the gates, Porta Flaminia, that will lead you to the center of Piazza del Popolo. The basilica contains numerous artworks by artists like: Bernini, Raphael and Bramante, but I want to focus on the amazing paintings by Caravaggio.

santa maria del popolo caravaggio paintings - Sculptures

Beautiful Sculptures

As legends have it, the basilica was founded, originally as a chapel, on the site of a demonic walnut tree that had been frightening, possessing, beating and injuring travelers that were arriving through the Porta Flaminia gate. After an exorcist was performed and the evil tree was destroyed, an altar, chapel and church were built, which became the Parish Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo.

Santa Maria Del Popolo Caravaggio Paintings

The two Caravaggio paintings that you can see in Santa Maria del Popolo are actually a little tricky to see. First, of course, you will need to give a donation of €2 to turn on the lights in the Cerasi Chapel (La Cappella Cerasi), which is to the left of the main altar. Given the free entry to the church, this is a pretty small price to pay.

Once the lights are on in the chapel, you will need to stand on the far left and far right to see the two paintings well enough. They are mounted on the side walls, which can make it difficult to see, but be patient and you should be able to get a good view. Luckily, I was able to transform my photos a bit to make them appear more straight on.

santa maria del popolo caravaggio paintings - The Conversion of Saint Paul

The Conversion of Saint Paul

The Conversion Of Saint Paul

The Conversion of St. Paul is a depiction of the exact moment when Paul received a vision that changed his life by becoming one of the leaders of the new Christian movement. Caravaggio placed St. Paul on his back, just after being struck to the ground as if by divine intervention. The composition is a little strange because a big horse dominates the upper half of the picture with St. Peter on the bottom taking up a disproportionately small amount of space.

santa maria del popolo caravaggio paintings - The Crucifixion

The Crucifixion of Saint Peter

The Crucifixion Of Saint Peter

This painting depicts when Saint Peter was killed as a martyr. As is common in depictions of Saint Peter, he is shown being mounted on the crucifix upside down, but unlike the popular portrayals, I don’t see his famous keys. He is being nailed to the cross, somewhat chaotically) by three executioners and he is looking at something that is out of the picture, presumably God.

What Are The Characteristics Of Caravaggio’s Style?

Caravaggio was an innovator in terms of technique. He painted without the support of drawing and this exclusive technique by Caravaggio is one of the reasons that his paintings are considered to be that of a master.

Caravaggio painted in a dark room with a small side window at the top, so as to let in only a glimmer of direct light on the scene. He would arrange the composition, almost like a photography setting, in the right relationships between the figures and the dimensions of the painting. My love for photography and the attention to light is why I am drawn to Caravaggio’s artwork.

Chiaroscuro is the name of the dominant technique that Caravaggio employed in his work. Chiaroscuro, which translates to Light/Dark, is an artistic lighting effect which consists of highlighting the images through the definition of light and shadows on the paintings by superimposing the “light” and “dark” shades. 

santa maria del popolo caravaggio paintings - Crucifix

Unique Crucifix From Back

Why Do They Call Him Caravaggio?

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was known simply as Caravaggio, which is a name he took from the homonymous village near Milan, where he was born in 1571. This is where he learned the trade in the workshop of Simone Peterzano, where he learned the love for nature, the practice of painting from still-life and from a model and with particular attention to the effects of light.

How Did Caravaggio Die?

On May 26, 1606, he fought a duel and in it he killed his opponent. Because of this killing, he was forced to flee. He was sentenced to death in absentia and as a result, he spent the last four years of his life fleeing persecution, but without ever ceasing to paint and often managing to sell his paintings at very high prices. 

santa maria del popolo caravaggio paintings - Skeleton

“Neither did we die there!”

He first fled to Latium, then found safety in Naples where he remained for a year before leaving for the island of Malta. There, he managed to become a Knight of the Order of Malta. Most likely because they had learned that he was an assassin, he was deposed and imprisoned. He escaped his jail to find refuge in Messina and then in Palermo before returning to Naples.

Through all his travels, he never stopped hoping for a pardon from the Pope. It was on the road that led him to Rome, where he was going to try to convince the Pope of his repentance, that he died on July 18, 1610 on the beach of Porto Ercole, which is north of Rome, in unknown circumstances.

Where Can I See Caravaggio Paintings In Italy?

There are fantastic examples of amazing artwork, like these Santa Maria del Popolo Caravaggio paintings, all over Rome and also around Italy and even across Europe. You can spend a considerable amount of time trying to see all the treasures he has left us, but if your time is limited, I would recommend checking out these posts that talk about, among other things, the Caravaggio works you can see in some popular locations around Rome. If you only want to choose one place to visit, start with the first one on the list: 

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