The other Caravaggio

Those who are interested in classic Italian renaissance paintings have most likely already heard of the famously infamous Caravaggio, but not everyone knows that there was another (unrelated) Caravaggio that was famous and very talented as well. His name was Polidoro da Caravaggio. The other one is now simply known as Caravaggio.

The reason that they have the same name but aren’t related to each other is that they both picked the name of the little town they came from as their last name. Caravaggio may very well done so with the hope that people would associate him to Polidoro de Caravaggio who was already famous when Caravaggio was at the beginning of his career.

It is said about Polidoro Caravaggio that he was arguably the best pupil of Raphael’s and certainly the least conventional one. Art historian Vasari also praised him for being  such a visionary artist.

Polidoro, who came from the tiny town of Caravaggio, started to work as a laborer carrying building materials for the builders of the Vatican loggia. Somehow he managed to make an impression on Maturino da Firenzi one of Raphael’s main assistants in the ongoing decoration of the Vatican. He joined Raphael’s workshop in about 1517 and started to work on Rafael’s Rooms in the Vatican. After that he and Maturino decided to try their luck as painters of facades of palaces in Rome. They were very successful and painted many facades of palaces in Rome. Unfortunately not all of those buildings survived until today, but the Palace Milesi was a happy exception.

niobe 203

This is what the facade looked like and the bottom frieze is a much-copied frieze called The Story of Niobe where Polidoro Caravaggio told the story of Niobe in five scenes. The reason that this palace is the best known work of Polidoro is because it was copied so often by other artists and because the building survived. Nowadays it is bad form to copy another artists work but in the 16th century copying masterworks was considered essential to the development of the artistic skills of an artist so many artists have copied these scenes and created their own art works based on them.The reason that the paintings were mono-chrome was not that the painters weren’t able to paint in more colors. They tried to imitate the classical marble decorations of ancient Rome because that was all the rage in the renaissance. Here you see how well they succeeded in making it look just like that:

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Here it shows the procession of suppliants, the suppliants taking the gifts to Niobe, the adoration of Niobe and the killing of Niobe’s children on the facade of the Palace Milesi by Polidoro da Caravaggio, 1526-1527, Rome.


The countless copies by artists over centuries are actually really helpful now because Maturino and Polidoro worked with a technique that has the unfortunate tendency to wither away especially when used as external decorations like they did in the 16th century. The facade of Palace Milesi is therefore in really poor condition.

Unfortunately Maturino was killed during the sacking of Rome in 1527 by Charles V. Polidoro managed to flee to Naples and after that to Messina where he was again very succesful as an artist untill he was robbed and killed by his own assistants, because they had learned that he had much money on him because he was planning to return to Rome. It seems like a sad ending for two such talented artists. Who knows what more they could have accompliced if they hadn’t been killed before it was their time?

Buona sera amici miei, Hilde


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