Much of the art of the Renaissance was extremely religious in its nature. The paintings from this time are almost entirely scenes from the Bible including: the enunciation of the Virgin Mary, depictions of the infant Jesus Christ, the crucifixion of Christ, and numerous other examples of Christian iconography. One would imagine that virtuous, upstanding artists would have created such angelic works of art. The stunning displays of morality, as seen in the works of many Renaissance painters, are not always a reflection of the artist’s lifestyle.
Two examples of artists whose paintings did not reflect their lifestyles were Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio and Fra Filippo Lippi. Both of these artists created works that portrayed Christian iconography with great aesthetic expertise. Among these works are Caravaggio’s The Inspiration of Matthew and Lippi’s Madonna with the Child and two Angels. Fra Angelico was another artist from this same time period. He is quite a contradiction compared to his contemporaries. Angelico led a very pure life following the Christian morals of the time, unlike his peers.
Caravaggio, while a great artist, had a stormy personal history. Very little is known about his life until it began to be documented in the criminal courts. His teens and early twenties were scattered with bouts of abject poverty, until he became renowned as an artist. From this point on, his name appears every few months on the police blotter. He became well known for picking fights, threatening people with swords and being arrested for such deeds. He was sued for libel and built up enemies to the point where his murder was attempted. He was found in bed with wounds around his neck and left ear. Because of this event, Caravaggio was jailed in his house for an entire month. He was forbidden to leave without written permission from the governor of Rome. However, it seemed nothing could keep Caravaggio out of trouble. In the month of May 1606, he killed a man who had won a bet over a ball game that afternoon. After this event, he was left wounded himself. He fled Rome, going to a patron’s house and eventually moved on to Naples. At the age of thirty-five, he left Naples and went to Malta, where he was well received for this renowned artwork. However, this situation did not last long. He got in a fight and was imprisoned. Shortly after arrest, he escaped and finally returned to Rome, where his reputation was still well known.