William Blake

English painter, poet and printmaker William Blake sadly died 12 August 1827. He was born 28 November 1757 at 28 Broad Street (now Broadwick St.) in Soho, London. He attended school only long enough to learn reading and writing, leaving at the age of ten, and was otherwise educated at home by his mother Catherine Wright Armitage Blake. He was baptised on 11 December at St James’s Church, Piccadilly, London. Blake started engraving copies of drawings of Greek antiquities purchased for him by his father, a practice that was preferred to actual drawing. Within these drawings Blake found his first exposure to classical forms through the work of Raphael, Michelangelo, Maarten van Heemskerck and Albrecht Dürer. When William was ten years old, he was enrolled in drawing classes at Pars’s drawing school in the Strand. He read avidly on subjects of his own choosing. During this period, Blake made explorations into poetry; his early work displays knowledge of Ben Jonson, Edmund Spenser, and the Psalms. In 1772, Blake was apprenticed to engraver James Basire of Great Queen Street, at the sum of £52.10, for a term of seven years. At the end of the term, aged 21, he became a professional engraver.

On 8 October 1779, Blake became a student at the Royal Academy in Old Somerset House, near the Strand Where he became a friend of John Flaxman, Thomas Stothard and George Cumberland and shared radical views, with Stothard and Cumberland joining the Society for Constitutional Information. In 1782 Blake met his future wife Catherine Boucher and married her on 18 August 1782 in St Mary’s Church, Battersea. Blake’s first collection of poems, Poetical Sketches, was printed around 1783.After his father’s death, Blake and former fellow apprentice James Parker opened a print shop in 1784, and began working with radical publisher Joseph Johnson, whose house was a meeting-place for some leading English intellectual dissidents of the time: theologian and scientist Joseph Priestley, philosopher Richard Price, artist John Henry Fuseli, early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and Anglo-American revolutionary Thomas Paine. Along with William Wordsworth and William Godwin. In 1784 Blake composed his unfinished manuscript An Island in the Moon.Blake illustrated Original Stories from Real Life (1788; 1791) by Mary Wollstonecraft and in 1793’s Visions of the Daughters of Albion, Blake condemned the cruel absurdity of enforced chastity and marriage without love and defended the right of women to complete self-fulfilmenti

In 1788, aged 31, Blake experimented with relief etching, a method he used to produce most of his books, paintings, pamphlets and Blake used this process for most of his well-known works, including Songs of Innocence and of Experience, The Book of Thel, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and Jerusalem. Although Blake has become most famous for his relief etching, his commercial work largely consisted of intaglio engraving, the standard process of engraving in the 18th century in which the artist incised an image into the copper plate, a complex and laborious process.examples of Blake’s intaglio engraving include illustrations of the Book of Job.In 1800, Blake moved to a cottage at Felpham, in Sussex (now West Sussex), to take up a job illustrating the works of William Hayley, a minor poet. It was in this cottage that Blake began work on Milton. Blake had trouble with authority which came to a head in August 1803, when he was involved in a physical altercation with a soldier, John Schofield and was charged not only with assault, but with uttering seditious and treasonable expressions against the king. Blake returned to London in 1804 and began to write and illustrate Jerusalem (1804–20), his most ambitious work. Having conceived the idea of portraying the characters in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. In 1818 he was introduced to a group of artists who called themselves the Shoreham Ancients. The group shared Blake’s rejection of modern trends and his belief in a spiritual and artistic New Age.

Aged 65, Blake’s last years were spent at Fountain Court off the Strand where he began work on illustrations for the Book of Job and was then commissioned to do a series of engravings to illustrate Dante’s Divine Comedy in 1826. Despite being Largely unrecognised during his lifetime and considered mad by his contempories for his idiosyncratic views, Blake is now considered a seminal figure in the history of the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age. His paintings and poetry have been characterised as part of the Romantic movement and “Pre-Romantic” and he was placed at number 38 in the BBC’s poll of the 100 Greatest Britons.

Andy Warhol

Pop Artist Andy Warhol was Born August 6, 1928. He was a leading figure in the visual art movement known as pop art. His works explore the relationship between artistic expression, celebrity culture and advertisement that flourished by the 1960s. After a successful career as a commercial illustrator, Warhol became a renowned and sometimes controversial artist. The Andy Warhol Museum in his native city, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, holds an extensive permanent collection of art and archives. It is the largest museum in the United States of America dedicated to a single artist. Warhol’s artwork ranged in many forms of media that include hand drawing, painting, printmaking, photography, silk screening, sculpture, film, and music. He was a pioneer in computer-generated art using Amiga computers that were introduced in 1985, just before his death in 1987. He founded Interview Magazine and was the author of numerous books, including The Philosophy of Andy Warhol and Popism: The Warhol Sixties. Andy Warhol is also notable as a gay man who lived openly as such before the gay liberation movement. His studio, The Factory, was a famous gathering place that brought together distinguished intellectuals, drag queens, playwrights, Bohemian street people, Hollywood celebrities, and wealthy patrons.

warhol has been the subject of numerous retrospective exhibitions, books, and feature and documentary films. He coined the widely used expression “15 minutes of fame”. Many of his creations are very collectible and highly valuable. The highest price ever paid for a Warhol painting is US$100 million for a 1963 canvas titled Eight Elvises. Warhol’s works include some of the most expensive paintings ever sold. he started his career as a commercial illustrator, producing drawings in “blotted-ink” style for advertisements and magazine articles. Best known of these early works are his drawings of shoes. Some of his personal drawings were self-published in small booklets, such as Yum, Yum, Yum (about food), Ho, Ho, Ho (about Christmas) and Shoes, Shoes, Shoes. His most artistically acclaimed book of drawings is probably A Gold Book, compiled of sensitive drawings of young men. A Gold Book is so named because of the gold leaf that decorates its pages. In April 2012 a sketch of 1930s singer Rudy Vallee thought to be drawn by Andy Warhol was found at a Las Vegas garage sale. By the beginning of the 1960s, Warhol had become a very successful commercial illustrator. His detailed and elegant drawings for I. Miller shoes were particularly popular. They consisted mainly of “blotted ink” drawings (or monoprints), a technique which he applied in much of his early art. Although many artists of this period worked in commercial art, most did so discreetly. Warhol was so successful, however, that his profile as an illustrator seemed to undermine his efforts to be taken seriously as an artist.

Pop art was an experimental form made popular by Roy Lichtenstein, and Andy Warhol, who would become famous as the “Pope of Pop”. His early paintings feature images taken from cartoons and advertisements, hand-painted with paint drips. Those drips emulated the style of successful abstract expressionists (such as Willem de Kooning). Warhol’s first pop art paintings were displayed in April 1961, serving as the backdrop for New York Department Store Bronwit Teller’s window display. his Pop Art contemporaries Jasper Johns, James Rosenquist and Robert Rauschenberg had also featured. Eventually, Warhol Images featured just brand names, celebrities, dollar signs. He loved celebrities, so he painted them as well, frequently using silk-screening. In 1979, Warhol was commissioned by BMW to paint a Group 4 race version of the BMW M1 for the BMW Art Car Project. Warhol produced both comic and serious works; his subject could be a soup can or an electric chair. Warhol used the same techniques — silkscreens, reproduced serially, and often painted with bright colors — whether he painted celebrities, everyday objects, or images of suicide, car crashes, and disasters, as in the 1962–1963 Death and Disaster series. The Death and Disaster paintings included Red Car Crash, Purple Jumping Man, and Orange Disaster.

Warhol’s was also a sculptor and his most famous sculpture is probably his Brillo Boxes, silkscreened ink on wood replicas of Brillo soap pad boxes (designed by James Harvey), part of a series of “grocery carton” sculptures that also included Heinz ketchup and Campbell’s tomato juice cases.Other famous works include the Silver Clouds — helium filled, silver mylar, pillow-shaped balloons. A Silver Cloud was included in the traveling exhibition Air Art (1968–1969) curated by Willoughby Sharp. Clouds was also adapted by Warhol for avant-garde choreographer Merce Cunningham’s dance piece RainForest (1968).Warhol also made two cable television shows, Andy Warhol’s TV in 1982 and Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes (based on his famous “fifteen minutes of fame” quotation) for MTV in 1986. Besides his own shows he regularly made guest appearances on other programs, including The Love Boat wherein a Midwestern wife (Marion Ross) fears Andy Warhol will reveal to her husband (Tom Bosley, who starred alongside Ross in sitcom Happy Days) her secret past as a Warhol superstar named Marina del Rey. Warhol also produced a TV commercial for Schrafft’s Restaurants in New York City, for an ice cream dessert appropriately titled the “Underground Sundae”.

During the 1960s, Warhol adopted the band the Velvet Underground, making them a crucial element of the Exploding Plastic Inevitable multimedia performance art show. Warhol, with Paul Morrissey, acted as the band’s manager, introducing them to Nico (who would perform with the band at Warhol’s request). In 1966 he “produced” their first album The Velvet Underground & Nico, as well as providing its album art. His actual participation in the album’s production amounted to simply paying for the studio time. After the band’s first album, Warhol and band leader Lou Reed started to disagree more about the direction the band should take, and their artistic friendship ended, after Warhol’s death, Reed and John Cale re-united for the first time since 1972 to write, perform, record and release the concept album Songs for Drella, a tribute to Warhol.Warhol also designed many album covers for various artists starting with the photographic cover of John Wallowitch’s debut album, This Is John Wallowitch!!! (1964). He designed the cover art for the Rolling Stones albums Sticky Fingers (1971) and Love You Live (1977), and the John Cale albums The Academy in Peril (1972) and Honi Soit in 1981. In 1975, Warhol was commissioned to do several portraits of Mick Jagger, and in 1982 he designed the album cover for the Diana Ross album Silk Electric.

One of his last works was a portrait of Aretha Franklin for the cover of her 1986 gold album Aretha, which was done in the style of the Reigning Queens series he had completed the year before. Warhol strongly influenced the New Wave/punk rock band Devo, as well as David Bowie. Bowie recorded a song called “Andy Warhol” for his 1971 album Hunky Dory. Lou Reed wrote the song “Andy’s Chest”, about Valerie Solanas, the woman who shot Warhol, in 1968. He recorded it with the Velvet Underground, and this version was released on the VU album in 1985. Warhol worked in fashion and met Edie Sedgwick. Warhol’s work in fashion includes silkscreened dresses, a short sub-career as a catwalk-model and books on fashion as well as paintings with fashion (shoes) as a subject. Warhol and his friends staged theatrical multimedia happenings at parties and public venues, combining music, film, slide projections and even Gerard Malanga in an S&M outfit cracking a whip. This culminated in The Exploding Plastic Inevitable in 1966.

Andy Warhol also worked in theatre and his production Pork played at LaMama theater in New York for a two-week run and was brought to the Roundhouse in London for a longer run in August 1971. Pork was based on tape-recorded conversations between Brigid Berlin and Andy during which Brigid would play for Andy tapes she had made of phone conversations between herself and her mother, socialite Honey Berlin. The play featured Jayne County as “Vulva” and Cherry Vanilla as “Amanda Pork”. In 1974, Andy Warhol also produced the stage musical Man On The Moon, which was written by John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas. Warhol was an excellent photographer, whose pictures were mostly taken with a specific model of Polaroid camera that Polaroid kept in production especially for Warhol. This photographic approach to painting and his snapshot method of taking pictures has had a great effect on artistic photography. he took an enormous amount of photographs of Factory visitors, friends. Sadly though Warhol passed away on February 22nd, 1987 In New York City after making a good recovery from a routine gallbladder surgery at New York Hospital before dying in his sleep from a sudden post-operative cardiac arrhythmia

Vincent van Goch

Dutch post-Impressionist painter Vincent Willem van Gogh sadly passed away 29 July 1890 at the age of 37 years old in Auvers-sur-Oise, France. He was born 30th March 1853, his work is notable for its rough beauty, emotional honesty and bold color, had a far-reaching influence on 20th-century art. After years of painful anxiety and frequent bouts of mental illness, he died aged 37 from a gunshot wound, generally accepted to be self-inflicted (although no gun was ever found).His work was then known to only a handful of people and appreciated by fewer still.Van Gogh began to draw as a child, and he continued to draw throughout the years that led up to his decision to become an artist. He did not begin painting until his late twenties, completing many of his best-known works during the last two years of his life. In just over a decade, he produced more than 2,100 artworks, consisting of 860 oil paintings and more than 1,300 watercolors, drawings, sketches and prints. His work included self portraits, landscapes, still lifes, portraits and paintings of cypresses, wheat fields and sunflowers.

Van Gogh spent his early adulthood working for a firm of art dealers, traveling between The Hague, London and Paris, after which he taught for a time in England. One of his early aspirations was to become a pastor and from 1879 he worked as a missionary in a mining region in Belgium where he began to sketch people from the local community. In 1885, he painted his first major work The Potato Eaters. His palette at the time consisted mainly of somber earth tones and showed no sign of the vivid coloration that distinguished his later work. In March 1886, he moved to Paris and discovered the French Impressionists. Later, he moved to the south of France and was influenced by the strong sunlight he found there.

His work grew brighter in color, and he developed the unique and highly recognizable style that became fully realized during his stay in Arles in 1888. The extent to which his mental health affected his painting has been a subject of speculation since his death. Despite a widespread tendency to romanticize his ill health, modern critics see an artist deeply frustrated by the inactivity and incoherence brought about by his bouts of illness. According to art critic Robert Hughes, Van Gogh’s late works show an artist at the height of his ability, completely in control and “longing for concision and grace”.

Beatrix Potter

English author, illustrator, natural scientist and conservationist Beatrix Potter  was Born 28th July 1866. She is best known for her imaginative children’s books featuring animals such as those in The Tale of Peter Rabbit which celebrated the British landscape and country life. She was born into a privileged Unitarian family, and along with her younger brother, Walter Bertram, grew up with few friends outside her large extended family. Her parents were artistic, interested in nature and enjoyed the countryside. As children, Beatrix and Bertram had numerous small animals as pets which they observed closely and drew endlessly. Summer holidays were spent in Scotland and in the English Lake District where Beatrix developed a love of the natural world which was the subject of her painting from an early age.She was educated by private governesses until she was eighteen. Her study of languages, literature, science and history was broad and she was an eager student. Her artistic talents were recognized early. Although she was provided with private art lessons, Potter preferred to develop her own style, particularly favouring watercolour. Along with her drawings of her animals, real and imagined, she illustrated insects, fossils, archeological artefacts, and fungi. In the 1890s her mycological illustrations and research on the reproduction of fungi spores generated interest from the scientific establishment.

The Tale of Mister Tod http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=RSHGpAlCt00

After illustrating cards and booklets, Potter wrote and illustrated The Tale of Peter Rabbit publishing it as a small, three-colour illustrated book with Frederick Warne & Co. Potter then went on to write many other books (such as The Tale of Ginger and Pickles, about the local shop in Near Sawrey and The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse, a wood mouse) which reflected her increasing participation in village life and her delight in country living. Between 1902 & 1922 Potter Wrote, illustrated and designed spin-off merchandise based on her children’s books for Warne and published over twenty-three books.With the proceeds from the books and a legacy from an aunt, Potter bought Hill Top Farm Near Sawrey, a tiny village in the English Lake District near Ambleside in 1905. Over the next several decades, she purchased additional farms to preserve the unique hill country landscape. Realising she needed to protect her boundaries she sought advice from Solicitors W.H. Heelis & Son. With William Heelis acting for her she bought contiguous pasture. In 1912 Heelis proposed and Beatrix accepted and The couple moved immediately to Castle Cottage, the renovated farm house on Castle Farm. Hill Top remained a working farm but was now remodelled to allow for the tenant family and Potter’s private studio and work shop.

Potter settled into country life with her solicitor husband and his large family, her farms, the Sawrey community. The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck and The Tale of Tom Kitten are representative of Hill Top Farm and of her farming life, and reflect her happiness with her country life. Potter also became a prize-winning breeder of Herdwick sheep and a prosperous farmer keenly interested in land preservation. She also established a Nursing Trust for local villages, and served on various committees and councils responsible for footpaths and other country life issues, Potter had been a disciple of the land conservation and preservation ideals of her long-time friend and mentor, Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, the first secretary and founding member of the National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty. She supported the efforts of the National Trust to preserve not just the places of extraordinary beauty, but those heads of valley and low grazing lands that would be irreparably ruined by development. She was also an authority on the traditional Lakeland crafts, period furniture and stonework and restored and preserved the farms that she bought or managed, making sure that each farm house had in it a piece of antique Lakeland furniture. Potter was interested in preserving not only the Herdwick sheep, but the way of life of fell farming.

In 1930 the Heelises became partners with the National Trust in buying and managing the fell farms included in the large Monk Coniston Estate. The estate was composed of many farms spread over a wide area of western Lancashire, including the famously beautiful Tarn Hows. Potter became the de facto estate manager for the Trust for seven years until the National Trust could afford to buy most of the property back from her. Her stewardship of these farms earned her wide regard. She was notable in observing the problems of afforestation, preserving the intake grazing lands, and husbanding the quarries and timber on these farms. All her farms were stocked with Herdwick sheep and frequently with Galloway cattle. Following her death Beatrix Potter left almost all her property to the National Trust including over 4,000 acres (16 km2) of land, sixteen farms, cottages and herds of cattle and Herdwick sheep.

Beatrix Potter sadly passed away 22 December 1943 near Sawry. However She is credited with preserving much of the land that now comprises the Lake District National Park and left almost all the original illustrations for her books to the National Trust. The copyright to her stories and merchandise was given to her publisher Frederick Warne & Co, now a division of the Penguin Group. Hill Top Farm was opened to the public by the National Trust in 1946 her artwork was displayed there until 1985 when it was moved to William Heelis’s former law offices in Hawkshead, also owned by the National Trust as the Beatrix Potter Gallery. Potter gave her folios of mycological drawings to the Armitt Library and Museum in Ambleside before her death. The Tale of Peter Rabbit is owned by Frederick Warne and Company, The Tailor of Gloucester by the Tate Gallery and The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies by the British Museum. The largest public collection of her letters and drawings is the Leslie Linder Bequest and Leslie Linder Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. In the United States, the largest public collections are those in the Special Collections of the Free Library of Philadelphia, and the Lloyd Cotsen Children’s Library at Princeton University. To this day Potter’s books continue to sell throughout the world, in multiple languages, and Her stories have been retold in song, film, ballet and animation.

Edgar Degas

Famous for his work in painting, sculpture, printmaking and regarded as one of the founders of Impressionism, the French artist Edgar Degas was Born 19th July 1834 in Paris, France. He was the oldest of five children of Célestine Musson De Gas, a Creole from New Orleans, Louisiana, and Augustin De Gas, a banker. His maternal grandfather Germain Musson, was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti of French descent and had settled in New Orleans in 1810.

Degas began his schooling in 1845 enrolling in the Lycée Louis-le-Grand. His mother died when he was thirteen, and his father and grandfather became the main influences on him for the remainder of his youth. Degas began to paint early in life and became a superb draftsman. By the time he graduated from the Lycée with a baccalauréat in literature in 1853, at age 18, he had turned a room in his home into an artist’s studio. Upon graduating, he registered as a copyist in The Louvre Museum, but his father expected him to go to law school. Degas duly enrolled at the Faculty of Law of the University of Paris in November 1853. In 1855 he met Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, whom Degas revered and whose advice he never forgot: “Draw lines, young man, and still more lines, both from life and from memory, and you will become a good artist” in 1855 Degas was admitted to the École des Beaux-Arts. He studied drawing there with Louis Lamothe. Early in his career, he wanted to be a history painter, a calling for which he was well prepared by his rigorous academic training and close study of classic art.

In July 1856, Degas traveled to Italy. In 1858, while staying with his aunt’s family in Naples, he made the first studies for his early masterpiece The Bellelli Family. He also drew and painted numerous copies of works by Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, and other Renaissance artists. Degas returned to France in 1859, and moved into a large Paris studio And began painting The Bellelli Family, intended for exhibition in the Salon. He also began work on several history paintings: Alexander and Bucephalus and The Daughter of Jephthah, Sémiramis Building Babylon and Young Spartans.

In 1861 Degas visited his childhood friend Paul Valpinçon in Normandy, and made the earliest of his many studies of horses. He exhibited at the Salon for the first time in 1865, exhibiting the painting Scene of War in the Middle Ages and continued to exhibit paintings at the Salon for the next five years including “Steeplechase—The Fallen Jockey”. Degas then abruptly changed subject matter bringing the traditional methods of a history painter to bear on contemporary subject matter, he became a classical painter of modern life. This was inspired in part by Édouard Manet, whom Degas had met in 1864 (while both were copying the same Velázquez portrait in the Louvre.

During the Franco-Prussian War Degas enlisted in the National Guard, where his defense of Paris left him little time for painting. Sadly his eyesight hindered him. In 1872 Degas visited New Orleans, Louisiana, where his brother René and a number of other relatives lived. Staying at the home of his Creole uncle, Michel Musson, on Esplanade Avenue, Degas produced a number of works, including A Cotton Office in New Orleans, many depicted family members.

In 1873 Degas returned to Paris sadly though his father died in 1874. Degas also learned that his brother René had amassed enormous business debts. To preserve his family’s reputation, Degas sold his house and an art collection he had inherited, and used the money to pay off his brother’s debt. In 1874 joined a group of young artists including Monet, who were organizing an independent exhibiting society. The group soon became known as the Impressionists. Between 1874 and 1886 they mounted eight art shows, known as the Impressionist Exhibitions. However Degas deeply disliked being associated with the term “Impressionist”, which the press had coined and popularized, and insisted on including non-Impressionist artists such as Jean-Louis Forain and Jean-François Raffaëlli in the group’s exhibitions and The group was disbanded in 1886. Degas also began collecting works by artists he admired: such as El Greco, Manet, Pissarro, Cézanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Édouard Brandon, Ingres, Delacroix, and Daumier. In the late 1880s, Degas also developed a passion for photography. Photographing many of his friends, including Renoir and Mallarmé. He also photographed dancers and nudes, which he used for reference in some of his drawings and paintings.

Much of Degas works depict dancers. These display his mastery in the depiction of movement, as do his racecourse subjects and female nudes. His portraits are notable for their psychological complexity and depiction of human isolation. Some of Degas’s work was controversial, but was generally admired for its draftsmanship. His La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans, or Little Dancer of Fourteen Years, which he displayed at the sixth Impressionist exhibition in 1881, was probably his most controversial piece. The suite of pastels depicting nudes that Degas exhibited in the eighth Impressionist Exhibition in 1886 produced “the most concentrated body of critical writing on the artist during his lifetime however The overall reaction was positive and Degas soon joined forces with the Impressionists, and rejected the rigid rules, judgements, and elitism of the Salon In favour of the the experimentalism of the Impressionists.

Degas held the view that a painter could have no personal life, Consequently Degas became isolated. Then The Dreyfus Affair controversy brought his anti-Semitic leanings to the fore and he broke with all his Jewish friends this together with his argumentative nature alienated him from most of his friends. Between 1907 and 1910 he Continued working in pastel and making Sculptures but he ceased working in 1912, when the impending demolition of his longtime residence on the rue Victor Massé forced him to move to quarters on Boulevard de Cliche. He spent the last years of his life, nearly blind, restlessly wandering the streets of Paris before dying 27 September 1917.

During Degas’ life, public reception to his work ranged from admiration to contempt. As a promising artist in the conventional mode, Degas had a number of paintings accepted in the Salon between 1865 and 1870. These works received praise from Pierre Puvis de Chavannes and the critic, Jules-Antoine Castagnary And his dynamic paintings and sketches of everyday life and activities, and his bold color experiments, served to finally tie him to the Impressionist movement as one of its greatest artists and Degas is now considered “one of the founders of Impressionism”. Though his work crossed many stylistic boundaries, his involvement with the other major figures of Impressionism and their exhibitions. His paintings, pastels, drawings, and sculptures are on prominent display in many museums and he also greatly influenced several important painters, most notably Jean-Louis Forain, Mary Cassatt, and Walter Sickert and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

Caravaggio

Italian artist Michelangelo Merisi or Amerighi da Caravaggio sadly died 18 July 1610 at the age of 38, under mysterious circumstances in Porto Ercole, while on his way to Rome to receive a pardon. He was born 29 September 1571 in Milan where his father, Fermo (Fermo Merixio), was a household administrator and architect-decorator to the Marchese of Caravaggio, a town not far from the city of Bergamo.[ His mother, Lucia Aratori (Lutia de Oratoribus), came from a nearby property owning family. In 1576 the family moved to Caravaggio (Caravaggius) to escape a plague that ravaged Milan, of which Caravaggio’s father and grandfather both died in 1577. The artist grew up in Caravaggio, but his family kept up connections with the Sforzas and with the powerful Colonna family, who were allied by marriage with the Sforzas and destined to play a major role later in Caravaggio’s life.

 Caravaggio’s mother died in 1584, and following her death he began his four-year apprenticeship to the Milanese painter Simone Peterzano, described in the contract of apprenticeship as a pupil of Titian. Caravaggio stayed in the Milan-Caravaggio area after his apprenticeship ended, and visited Venice where he saw the works of Giorgione, he became familiar with the art treasures of Milan, including Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, and with the regional Lombard art, Which used simplicity and attention to naturalistic detail and was closer to the naturalism of Germany than to the stylised formality and grandeur of Roman Mannerism. Following his initial training under Simone Peterzano, in 1592 Caravaggio left Milan for Rome, in flight after “certain quarrels” and the wounding of a police officer.

In Rome he forged some extremely important friendships, with the painter Prospero Orsi, the architect Onorio Longhi, and the sixteen-year-old Sicilian artist Mario Minniti. Orsi, established in the profession, introduced him to influential collectors; while Longhi, introduced him to the dubious world of Roman street-brawls. A few months later he was painting for the highly successful Giuseppe Cesari, Pope Clement VIII’s favourite artist, “painting flowers and fruit” and developed a considerable name as an artist, In Rome there was demand for paintings to fill the many huge new churches and palazzos being built at the time. It was also a period when the Church was searching for a stylistic alternative to Mannerism in religious art that was tasked to counter the threat of Protestantism. Caravaggio’s innovation was a radical naturalism that combined close physical observation with a dramatic, even theatrical, use of chiaroscuro that came to be known as tenebrism. Minniti served Caravaggio as a model and, years later, would be instrumental in helping him to obtain important commissions in Sicily. Known works from this period include a small Boy Peeling a Fruit (his earliest known painting), a Boy with a Basket of Fruit, and the Young Sick Bacchus, supposedly a self-portrait done during convalescence from a serious illness that ended his employment with Cesari.

Caravaggio led a tumultuous life and was a violent amd easily provoked individual. He was jailed on several occasions, vandalized his own apartment, and ultimately had a death warrant issued for him by the Pope. He was also notorious for brawling, even in a time and place when such behavior was commonplace, and the transcripts of his police records and trial proceedings fill several pages. In 1606, he killed, possibly unintentionally, a young man named Ranuccio Tomassoni from Terni (Umbria). The circumstances of the brawl and the death of Ranuccio Tomassoni remain mysterious. Several contemporary avvisi referred to a quarrel over a gambling debt and a tennis game.  Whatever the details, it was a serious matter. Previously his high-placed patrons had protected him from the consequences of his escapades, but this time they could do nothing. Caravaggio, outlawed, fled from Rome to Naples.

In Naples, outside the jurisdiction of the Roman authorities Caravaggio was protected by the Colonna family. Whose connections led to a stream of important church commissions, including the Madonna of the Rosary, and The Seven Works of Mercy, this painting depicts the seven corporal works of mercy as a set of compassionate acts concerning the material needs of others. The painting is still housed in, the church of Pio Monte della Misericordia in Naples. Caravaggio combined all seven works of mercy in one composition which became the church’s altarpiece. Despite his success in Naples, after only a few months in the city Caravaggio left for Malta, the headquarters of the Knights of Malta, presumably hoping that the patronage of Alof de Wignacourt, Grand Master of the Knights, could help him secure a pardon for Tomassoni’s death. De Wignacourt proved so impressed at having the famous artist as official painter to the Order that he inducted him as a knight, and the early biographer Bellori records that the artist was well pleased with his success. Major works from his Malta period include a huge Beheading of Saint John the Baptist (the only painting to which he put his signature) and a Portrait of Alof de Wignacourt and his Page, as well as portraits of other leading knights. In 1608 he was arrested and imprisoned as the result of yet another brawl, during which the door of a house was battered down and a knight seriously wounded.  He was imprisoned by the knights and managed to escape. By December he had been expelled from the Order “as a foul and rotten member.”

In 1607 Caravaggio made his way from Naples to Sicily To gain a papal pardon for his sentence. In Sicilly met his old friend Mario Minniti, who was now married and living in Syracuse. Together they set off on what amounted to a triumphal tour from Syracuse to Messina and, maybe, on to the island capital, Palermo. In Syracuse and Messina Caravaggio continued to win prestigious and well-paid commissions. Among other works from this period are Burial of St. Lucy, The Raising of Lazarus, and Adoration of the Shepherds. His style continued to evolve, showing now friezes of figures isolated against vast empty backgrounds. “His great Sicilian altarpieces isolate their shadowy, pitifully poor figures in vast areas of darkness; they suggest the desperate fears and frailty of man, and at the same time convey, with a new yet desolate tenderness, the beauty of humility and of the meek, who shall inherit the earth.”.

In 1609 After only nine months in Sicily, an increasingly paranoid Caravaggio returned to Naples. He was being pursued by enemies while in Sicily and felt it safest to place himself under the protection of the Colonnas until he could secure his pardon from the pope (now Paul V) and return to Rome. In Naples he painted The Denial of Saint Peter, a final John the Baptist (Borghese), and his last picture, The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula. In Naples, an attempt was made on his life, And he was seriously disfigured in the face. He painted a Salome with the Head of John the Baptist (Madrid), showing his own head on a platter, and sent it to de Wignacourt, he also painted David with the Head of Goliath, which he sent to the art-loving Cardinal Scipione Borghese, nephew of the pope, who had the power to grant or withhold pardons.

Throughout his life Caravaggio displayed bizarre behaviour, and courted controvery. this seems to have increased after Malta and Questions about his mental state arose from his erratic and bizarre behavior. In the summer of 1610 he took a boat northwards to receive the pardon, which seemed imminent thanks to his powerful Roman friends. With him were three last paintings, gifts for Cardinal Scipione. However He died in 28 July 1610 under uncertain circumstances while on his way from Naples to Rome. Reports stated that he died of a fever, but suggestions have been made that he was murdered or that he died of lead poisoning. Recent research suggest that the artist died on that day of a fever in Porto Ercole, near Grosseto in Tuscany. Human remains found in a church in Porto Ercole in 2010 are believed to almost certainly belong to Caravaggio. Some argue that Caravaggio was murdered by the same “enemies” that had been pursuing him since he fled Malta, possibly Wignacourt and/or factions in the Order of St. John.

During his life, Caravaggio’s innovations inspired many Baroque paintings and his influence  on the new Baroque style  can be seen in the work of Rubens, Jusepe de Ribera, Bernini, Rembrandt and  the “Caravaggisti” or “Caravagesques”, as well as Tenebrists or “Tenebrosi” (“shadowists”) who incorporated the drama of chiaroscuro without the psychological realism.

 

Rembrandt van Rijn

Dutch painter and etcher Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn , was born 15 July 1606. His contributions to art came during a period of great wealth and cultural achievement that historians call the Dutch Golden Age which was very different to the Baroque style that dominated Europe, he was extremely prolific and innovative. As a boy he attended Latin school and was enrolled at the University of Leiden, although according to a contemporary he had a greater inclination towards painting and was soon apprenticed to a Leiden history painter, Jacob van Swanenburgh, with whom he spent three years. After a brief but important apprenticeship of six months with the famous painter Pieter Lastman in Amsterdam, Rembrandt opened a studio in Leiden in 1624 or 1625, which he shared with friend and colleague Jan Lievens. In 1627, Rembrandt began to accept students, among them Gerrit Dou. In 1629, Rembrandt was discovered by the statesman Constantijn Huygens, the father of Dutch mathematician and physicist Christiaan Huygens, who procured commissions from the court of The Hague. As a result of this connection, Prince Frederik Hendrik continued to purchase paintings from Rembrandt until 1646.

In 1631 Rembrandt moved to Amsterdam, then rapidly expanding as the new business capital of the Netherlands, and began work as a professional portrait artist with great success. Throughout his career the themes of portraiture, landscape and narrative painting were his primary subjects and he produced over 600 paintings, nearly 400 etchings and 2,000 drawings including a number of biblical works, including The Raising of the Cross, Joseph Telling His Dreams and The Stoning of Saint Stephen, he was especially praised by his contemporaries, who extolled him as a masterly interpreter of biblical stories for his skill in representing emotions and attention to detail.During Rembrandt’s Leiden period (1625–1631) his Paintings were rather small, but rich in details (for example, in costumes and jewelry). Religious and allegorical themes were favored. In 1626 Rembrandt produced his first etchings, the wide dissemination of which would largely account for his international fame In 1629 he completed Judas Repentant, Returning the Pieces of Silver and The Artist in His Studio, works that evidence his interest in the handling of light and variety of paint application, and constitute the first major progress in his development as a painter.

Between 1632 and 1636 Rembrandt painted dramatic biblical and mythological scenes in high contrast and of large format (The Blinding of Samson, 1636, Belshazzar’s Feast, c. 1635 Danaë, 1636), seeking to emulate the baroque style of Rubens. With the occasional help of assistants in his workshop, he painted numerous portrait commissions both small (Jacob de Gheyn III) and large (Portrait of the Shipbuilder Jan Rijcksen and his Wife, 1633, Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, By the late 1630s Rembrandt had produced a few paintings and many etchings of landscapes. Often these landscapes highlighted natural drama, featuring uprooted trees and ominous skies (Cottages before a Stormy Sky, and The Three Trees. From 1640 his work became less exuberant and more sober in tone, possibly reflecting personal tragedy. Biblical scenes were now derived more often from the New Testament than the Old Testament, as had been the case before. In 1642 he painted The Night Watch and in the decade following the Night Watch, Rembrandt’s paintings varied greatly in size, subject, and style. The previous tendency to create dramatic effects primarily by strong contrasts of light and shadow gave way to the use of frontal lighting and larger and more saturated areas of color.

However these graphic works of natural drama eventually made way for quiet Dutch rural scenes and by the 1650s, Rembrandt’s style changed again. Colors became richer and brush strokes more pronounced. With these changes, Rembrandt distanced himself from earlier work and current fashion, which increasingly inclined toward fine, detailed works. In later years biblical themes were still depicted often, but emphasis shifted from dramatic group scenes to intimate portrait-like figures (James the Apostle, 1661). In his last years, Rembrandt painted his most deeply reflective self-portraits, and several moving images of both men and women in love, in life, and before God.Although he achieved youthful success as a portrait painter, Rembrandt’s later years were marked by personal tragedy and financial hardships. Yet his etchings and paintings were popular throughout his lifetime, his reputation as an artist remained high, and for twenty years he taught many important Dutch painters. Rembrandt’s greatest creative triumphs are exemplified especially in his portraits of his contemporaries, self-portraits and illustrations of scenes from the Bible. His self-portraits form a unique and intimate biography, in which the artist surveyed himself without vanity and with the utmost sincerity. In his paintings and prints he exhibited knowledge of classical iconography, which he molded to fit the requirements of his own experience; thus, the depiction of a biblical scene was informed by Rembrandt’s knowledge of the specific text, his assimilation of classical composition, and his observations of Amsterdam’s Jewish population. Rembrandt sadly passed away on 4th October 1669) but his legacy lives on in the form of many wonderful paintings and because of his empathy for the human condition, he is also sometimes referred to as “one of the great prophets of civilization.”