Art of brawling genius Caravaggio is at home in the violent modern world

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The Independent Online

During his lifetime, Caravaggio was branded a disgrace by the European art world. His anguished paintings of bloody corpses and decapitated heads scandalised a society that expected something far more restrained and conventionally beautiful from its art. The tempestuous outlaw was discounted as a troublemaking rebel and his works, now recognised as masterpieces, were written off as unpalatable products of a deranged mind.

But it is exactly this violent streak, say the organisers of a lavish exhibitions devoted to the Italian master, that has fuelled the current fascination with the man and his work. "We live in a time which understands violence very well," said the director of the Liechtenstein Museum in Vienna, Johann Kraeftner. "[Caravaggio's] character was very violent. He wanted to bring that to the fore in his ideas."

An ambitious exhibition of the painter's works, beginning next month in Milan's Palazzo Reale before travelling next March to Mr Kraeftner's museum, will try to demonstrate how Caravaggio's innovative approach to grim realism revolutionised the art world and influenced decades of European painters in the first part of the 17th century.

Celebrated works such as Caravaggio's Sleeping Cupid and The Flagellation of Christ will hang alongside paintings by other artists - from the Spanish Baroque painter Jusepe de Ribera to the Dutchman Hendrick Terbrugghen - who followed in his footsteps.

Born in Lombardy in 1571, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio lived an action-packed life of duels, brawls and brushes with the law, before dying of fever in 1610. His art is celebrated for the masterful use of chiaroscuro, a technique which skilfully presents the contrasts of light and shadow.