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Painting in Naples

Caravaggio visited Naples twice: in 1606/7, when he fled Rome after the murder of Ranuccio Tomassoni, and again in 1609/10, following an extended stay on the islands of Malta and Sicily. The Kingdom of Naples was then part of the Spanish Empire and the city itself, with its bustling commerce and dynamic cultural scene, was home to many artists from Spain, like Jusepe de Ribera. Neapolitan artists frequently travelled to Rome – both Ribera and Mattia Preti spent their formative years there – and would already have known Caravaggio’s paintings. However, it was the art that Caravaggio produced in Naples that had the most enduring influence on painters there, most famously his ‘The Seven Acts of Mercy’ (1606–7).

Jusepe de Ribera, 'The Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew', 1634. Image courtesy of the Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Jusepe de Ribera, 'The Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew', 1634. Image courtesy of the Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

In his mature works Caravaggio abandoned the descriptive technique and broader tonal range of his Roman years in favour of a looser, more summary handling of paint. The greater emphasis on exaggerated gesture and forceful lighting was well-suited to religious subjects, where a picture’s emotional intensity could perfectly match its visual potency.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, ‘Salome receives the Head of John the Baptist’, about 1609-10

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, ‘Salome receives the Head of John the Baptist’, about 160910

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