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Caravaggio lived fast, died young, and had a big influence on those who followed. His gritty realism and stark lighting and dramatic canvases featuring dirty Davids and plain-Jane Madonnas gave his art an emotional punch.

Complete Video Script

[47] Also in Rome around the year 1600, a rebellious young artist named Caravaggio was inspiring a new generation of artists with his stark realism. He lived hard and spent much of his life running from the law.

[48, Caravaggio, 1571–1610] While he died young, Caravaggio was hugely influential. With stark lighting, Caravaggio created a film-noir world of harsh glare and deep shadows, throwing an unflattering light on his subjects. Even his sacred scenes looked like rugged Roman street life, with a gritty realism — saints with bald wrinkled foreheads, tattered coats, dirty feet, ordinary, plain-Jane Madonnas — and a restless energy.

[49, David with the Head of Goliath, c. 1607, Caravaggio, Kusthistorisches Museum, Vienna] Caravaggio's David slaying the giant is no noble Renaissance hero but a sassy teenager. The lighting is stark and dramatic…and the details are gruesome. David literally shoves the harsh reality in our face…and Goliath's head? It's none other than Caravaggio himself.