Gallery moves from master to pupil, via patron

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Shows on Caravaggio, Rubens and Stubbs are the highlights of exhibitions planned by the National Gallery for next year, it announced yesterday.

Shows on Caravaggio, Rubens and Stubbs are the highlights of exhibitions planned by the National Gallery for next year, it announced yesterday.

The dramatic later years of Caravaggio, when he was forced to flee Rome with a death sentence on his head after killing a man during a tennis match, will come under the spotlight next spring. Surprisingly, the show is the first in Britain to be devoted to the 16th-century master, although he featured in the "Genius of Rome" exhibition at the Royal Academy three years ago.

It will show the dramatic change in style from the strong use of light and shade (known as chiaroscuro ), for which he is best known, to a more subdued tone in his later years when he was moving restlessly from Naples to Malta and Sicily, repeatedly getting into trouble. The show will be followed in June by an exhibition featuring George Stubbs, the greatest of all British horse painters, in the first show devoted to the theme of "the horse at work". A Tate exhibition in 1984 examined the entire sweep of his output. Taking the National Gallery's Whistlejacket as its starting point, it will present detailed drawings made by the artist as he studied the anatomy of the horse, as well as a range of works showing the importance of horses in 18th-century British culture.

The show will also explore the nature of patronage by reuniting paintings commissioned by several of Stubbs' patrons, notably the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham, for whom Whistlejacket was painted.

The final grand master to be featured will be Rubens, in an exhibition examining his move from his native Antwerp to Italy, where his art flourished under the influence of Michelangelo, Raphael and Caravaggio. The culmination of the show will be a group of Rubens' masterpieces that were created on his return to Antwerp and were last seen together in his studio. They include Samson and Delilah , The Massacre of the Innocents and Juno and Argus . The National Gallery will also continue its tradition of encouraging contemporary artists to create new works inspired by the classics in its collections.

A young British artist, Tom Hunter, has been commissioned to make a series of photographs on the subject of the lives of ordinary people in Hackney, east London, where he lives, but in the style of Renaissance paintings. Hunter has made a start on the project with a work about Margaret Muller, the young American artist who was stabbed to death last year while jogging in a park. The photograph is inspired by Piero di Cosimo's A Satyr Mourning over a Nymph .

Another contemporary artist, John Virtue, 57, is working on a series of giant London cityscapes of St Paul's Cathedral and Nelson's Column, inspired by the landscapes of artists including Turner and Constable. He admitted yesterday to enormous fear at the "absurd hubris" of working as an associate artist at the gallery whose masterpieces he had been studying for 40 years. His landscapes will go on display in March.

One final curiosity is a 13th-century Gothic masterpiece that once functioned as the high altarpiece of Westminster Abbey but was used as part of a cupboard after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century, its glory painted over. It has been restored with lottery funding and will go on display in May. Afterwards it will be returned to the Abbey.