Ottavio Leoni, portrait of Michelangelo Caravaggio. 1621

10 patrons of Caravaggio, painting’s greatest bully

Ottavio Leoni, portrait of Michelangelo Caravaggio. 1621
Ottavio Leoni, portrait of Michelangelo Caravaggio. 1621

“After two weeks of toil, he will be with an important air for about a month or two, wandering around with a sword on his side, accompanied by a servant, from one ball court to another, always ready to fight or argue” – so Karel van Mander, Flemish mannerist painter characterized his contemporary, one of the greatest masters of Baroque painting – Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio.

Dozens of written sources have come down to us with similar testimonies of Merisi’s bad character. Perhaps no other painter of the 17th century. cannot boast such a bad reputation. However, despite the eccentric temperament that causes a lot of inconvenience to others, Caravaggio never had a shortage of admirers and patrons. So who were these people, ready to provide orders, intercede before the law and provide shelter to a scandalous genius?

10 patrons of Caravaggio: Pandolfo Pucci

As you know, Caravaggio’s real career began with his arrival in the Eternal City. But before the artist reached the peak of fame, he had to carry out minor orders, work in the workshops of more established artists and constantly change his address. Endless changes were due to Merisi’s desire to get to a higher-ranking owner and improve his professional status.

The first person to notice the young artist was Pandolfo Pucci, the beneficiary of the church of St. Peter and the major-domo of Pope Sixtus V’s sister. But instead of being able to receive orders from the papal court, Caravaggio, according to Mancini, was forced to “carry out instructions that clearly did not suit him, and, worst of all, was content in the evenings with one salad, which replaced the first , and the second, and the third. ” The humiliating treatment and making copies of other people’s works could not satisfy the high ambitions of the artist, so he was forced to leave the roof of the “monsignor of the salad” and go to meet the unknown.

Ottavio Leoni. Portrait of Giuseppe Cesari. 1621
Ottavio Leoni. Portrait of Giuseppe Cesari. 1621. 10 patrons of Caravaggio

2. Giuseppe Cesari, nicknamed the Chevalier d’Arpino (1568-1640)

It is not known for certain how Caravaggio got into the studio of the famous Cavalier d’Arpino, because it was the dream of any novice artist of that era. Giuseppe Cesari is the same age as Caravaggio. But while our hero serves as an errand boy for Peterziano in Milan, D’Arpino, at the age of 14, receives an order to paint the facade of one of the Roman palazzo, then decorates the Vatican loggias and becomes a member of the Academy of St. Luke.

Caravaggio worked in Cesari’s workshop for about eight months and, probably, it was during this period that he created his first masterpieces. However, according to Bellori, there Merisi again has to “paint flowers and fruits … he reluctantly obeys, suffers from the fact that he is not trusted to paint figures, and therefore, having become acquainted by chance with Prosperino delle Grottesque, leaves the workshop of Giuseppe to join him in a kind of competition – who will eventually reach the pinnacle of glory. ”

3. Prospero Orsi (1560-1633)

The aforementioned Prosperino delle Grottesque or Prospero Orsi is a young colleague and friend of Caravaggio. In addition to his artistic practice, he is engaged in the sale of paintings and has connections in the highest circles. Prospero introduces Merisi to the right people, often acting as an agent. It was thanks to Orsi that the artist became friends with the successful merchant Costantino Spada and subsequently met one of his most influential patrons, Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte.

4. Costantino Spada

Costantino Spada becomes a close friend of Caravaggio and takes an active part in promoting his work. Owning a shop in the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi, he exhibits and sells works by Merisi. Thanks to Spada, the artist receives his first major orders – “The Penitent Mary Magdalene” and “Rest on the Flight to Egypt”. Having come into contact with the world of large-scale projects and substantial fees, Merisi finally gets a decent opportunity to prove herself and forever breaks with work for other artists.

Ottavio Leoni. Portrait of Cardinal Francesco del Monte
Ottavio Leoni. Portrait of Cardinal Francesco del Monte. 10 patrons of Caravaggio

5. Francesco Maria del Monte (1549-1627)

The relationship between Francesco del Monte and Caravaggio cannot be regarded simply as a professional relationship between the customer and the performer. A craving for experimentation and innovation is what has become the basis for many years of friendship and cooperation between two outstanding people. Francesco is a hereditary cardinal, a politician, but at the same time a refined intellectual, a subtle connoisseur of arts, a collector of paintings and a patron of the arts, the patron saint of not only artists, but also leading scientists, for example, Galileo Galilei.

Del Monte serves at the court of Cardinal Ferdinando de Medici and lives in the residences of the famous family. He regularly hosts receptions, concerts and performances of a royal scale, inviting the high society. It is on del Monte’s recommendation that a young artist with a dubious reputation first receives a state order, originally intended for Girolamo Muziano and the cavalier d’Arpino – a series of paintings about the martyrdom of St. Matthew for the Contarelli Chapel in the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi.

patrons of Caravaggio. Vincenzo Giustiniani.
Vincenzo Giustiniani. 10 patrons of Caravaggio
6. Vincenzo Giustiniani (1564-1637)

Around the same time, Merisi da Caravaggio became acquainted with the fabulously rich marquis and banker, the author of the treatises Conversations on Painting and Conversations on Music, Vincenzo Giustiniani. Subsequently, he, along with Francesco del Monte, will become the main admirer and collector of the artist’s paintings. In Palazzo Giustiniani, near the church of San Luigi dei Francesi, the Marquis has assembled a legendary collection of more than 300 paintings, 15 of which are by Caravaggio. All artistic Rome flocked to Vincenzo’s gallery to admire the masterpieces.

patrons of Caravaggio. Ottavio Leoni, portrait of Cardinal Shipione Borghese
Ottavio Leoni, portrait of Cardinal Shipione Borghese. 10 patrons of Caravaggio
7. Scipione Borghese, cardinal (1577-1633)

A great admirer of the genius of Michelangelo Merisi was the beloved nephew of Pope Paul V, the cardinal and archbishop of Bologna and Imola, the librarian of the Holy Roman Church – Scipione Borghese. He was an ardent connoisseur and collector of works of not only contemporary, but also antique masters.

Due to his status and kinship with the Pope, he was able to confiscate and buy for a pittance the masterpieces of painting, including those designed for cathedrals by Raphael and Caravaggio. Surprisingly, the unprecedented success among the Roman nobility did not bring Caravaggio peace and a peaceful life in abundance. Once, the eccentric artist got into a mess, from which he could not get out of the water – Ranuccio Tomassoni, the head of the Campo Marzio district, died in a scuffle with his participation. Recognized guilty of death and sentenced to death, Merisi was forced to urgently leave Rome, hiding from papal agents. The artist went to the south of Italy, where Costanza Sforza Colonna provided protection to him.

8. Costanza Sforza Colonna

The family of the marquise patronized the native village of our hero – Caravaggio. His aunt served as a wet nurse in the Constanta family, who noticed a talented child and throughout his life acted as a fairy godmother. Probably, with her help, Merisi’s escape to Naples was prepared and carried out, and his paintings ended up in all the main art salons of the city. The fugitive took refuge in the family estate of the Colonna clan in Pagliano, and found in the person of Constanta’s relative, Luigi Carafa Colonna, another reliable patron and benevolent customer. No artist in Naples had the opportunity to compete with Caravaggio, who was at the height of his fame.

He continued to receive good orders from the highest dignitaries of southern Italy and did not intend to make any attempt to hide from the law. After all, no one would dare to touch a person who enjoys such authority. However, this did not bring the rebellious genius the proper satisfaction. The thought of returning to the Eternal City overshadowed all available benefits. The master of the Order of Malta, Alof de Vignacourt, could help return the position of Pope Paul V, so Malta became the next point in the geography of Merisi’s movements.

Caravaggio, portrait of Alof de Vignacourt with a page
Caravaggio, portrait of Alof de Vignacourt with a page. 10 patrons of Caravaggio
9. Alof de Vignacourt (1547-1622)

During his reign, Vinyakur unleashed extensive construction in Malta. Numerous forts, the Valleta aqueduct and, of course, the palace of the Grand Master – for the construction of all these structures, Alof attracted the best masters of Italy. Hearing that Caravaggio had moved to the island, the master ordered a ceremonial portrait in armor from him. Vignacourt was delighted with the result, generously rewarded the maestro and elevated him to the status of a Knight of the Order of Malta. However, this title implied that the artist had to give up a riotous life, drunkenness, pleasures with women of easy virtue and gambling. Obviously, it turned out to be out of sorts for Merisi. Almost immediately after the initiation, Caravaggio was caught in a fight with other knights, imprisoned and expelled from the order in disgrace.

Portrait of Mario Minniti
Portrait of Mario Minniti. 10 patrons of Caravaggio
10. Mario Minniti (1577-1640)

But this time too, the cruel punishment was avoided thanks to the influential patrons of the Sforza family. A month later, the criminal escapes from custody with the help of Constanta’s son Colonna Fabrizio, and after a few days he gets by sea to the island of Sicily, to Syracuse, where his old friend Mario Minniti lives. The same young man who posed for Caravaggio’s early paintings, such as Bacchus, The Lute Player or The Fortune Teller.

Thanks to the connections of Minniti, who took place in Sicily as an artist with his own workshop, Caravaggio immediately received an order for an altarpiece for the main cathedral of the city – the Church of Saint Lucia, the patroness of Syracuse. By this time, rumors reached Merisi that dad was preparing a pardon, and the artist immediately went to his beloved city. But on the way, Caravaggio overtook a fate with which none of the most influential intercessors could help.

In October 1609, news appeared in the newspapers that an artist named Merisi da Caravaggio had been killed in Naples. Caravaggio’s fate is dramatic, but it would be wrong to consider the artist an outcast. On the contrary, fortune favored Merisi, constantly confronting him with people who were ready to endlessly support and help the creator, whose unique genius influenced the development of all subsequent European art. 10 patrons of Caravaggio