"Caravaggio put the oscuro in chiaroscuro."
He was born Michelangelo Merisi on Sept. 28, 1573, in Caravaggio, Italy. As an adult he would become known by the name of his birthplace. Orphaned at age 11, he was apprenticed to the painter Simone Peterzano of Milan for four years. At some time between 1588 and 1592, Caravaggio went to Rome and worked as an assistant to painters of lesser skill. About 1595 he began to sell his paintings through a dealer. The dealer brought Caravaggio to the attention of Cardinal Francesco del Monte.
Caravaggio's novelty was a radical naturalism which combined close physical observation with a dramatic, even theatrical, approach to the use of light and shadow. Chiaroscuro was practiced long before he came on the scene, but it was Caravaggio who made the technique definitive, darkening the shadows and transfixing the subject in a blinding shaft of light. With this came the acute observation of physical and psychological reality which formed the ground both for his immense popularity and for his frequent problems with his religious commissions.
Caravaggio's tenebrism (a heightened chiaroscuro) brought high drama to his subjects, while his acutely observed realism brought a new level of emotional intensity. He had a noteworthy ability to express in one scene of unsurpassed vividness the passing of a crucial moment, but opinion among Caravaggio's artist peers was polarized. Some denounced him for various perceived failings, notably his insistence on painting from life, without drawings, but for the most part he was hailed as a great artistic visionary: "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."
"He expresses a radical division between our unconscious internals morality, represented by shadow, and the part of life we live searching for ourselves, expressed through light. A split between the matter from which we are formed and the Divine for which we yearn."
"Vittorio Storaro on Caravaggio." Aperature Magazine, #190; Spring 2008. pg 96.