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Caravaggio's legacy

Caravaggio’s originality lay principally in his use of live models and dramatic lighting effects, but his greatest legacy was the enduring power of his storytelling. Defying tradition, Caravaggio treated well-known themes in unprecedented ways. He injected new life into biblical stories and often blurred the lines between sacred and profane subjects.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, 'Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness', about 1603–4 © The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri (Purchase: William Rockhill Nelson Trust) 52-25. Photo Jamison Miller

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, 'Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness', about 1603–4 © The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri (Purchase: William Rockhill Nelson Trust) 52-25. Photo Jamison Miller

Seduced by the pictorial and narrative power of Caravaggio’s paintings, artists continued to emulate him for some time. However, by the middle of the 17th century the international artistic phenomenon known as Caravaggism had waned as the preference for naturalistic painting shifted in favour of a more idealised, classical tradition. It would take almost three hundred years for Caravaggio’s reputation to be restored and for his artistic accomplishments to be fully recognised. Today he is admired once again for his unforgettable imagery, inventiveness, and astonishing modernity.

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