10 Paintings By Caravaggio That Portrayed His Mastery In Chiaroscuro

paintings by Caravaggio

As the biggest inspiration for the great Baroque movement that took the art world by storm, paintings by Caravaggio are some of the most coveted and revolutionary pieces of art.

The renowned painter had to use a cunning approach to create different pieces of art that present dual views to viewers. 

He’d incorporate amusing elements that encourage critics to learn more about his paintings’ subjects and morality. 

History knows him as a prolific painter, but despite all of this, Caravaggio’s personal life is shrouded in a lot of controversies, and his death is one of the biggest art mysteries in the world.

However, his paintings did make up for his infamy and were the talk of the town, with great scholars and kings fashioning them in their extravagant places.

As you know a little bit about it, let’s try to understand the journey of one of the most extraordinary artists of the Renaissance, as shown by these 10 famous paintings by Caravaggio.

1. The Calling of St. Matthew

Famous paintings by Caravaggio The Calling of St. Matthew

The Calling of St. Matthew, one of Caravaggio’s most famous Biblical paintings, is one of the artist’s most stunning uses of chiaroscuro.

It is one of the earliest yet most famous paintings by Caravaggio, which made him see the glory and successful days of his life. 

The painting depicts nothing but Jesus’ appearance and his guidance in showing Matthew his path. 

This sparked a great trend of Jesus paintings all over the world and is what inspired many artists to take up religious painting.

Not only was the culture surrounding Italy Christocentric, but the significance of these paintings was very minimal at the time. 

The painting depicts Christ leaving the frame, and Matthew, a money lender, is moved by the piety of his holy figure and decides to convert to Christianity.

In this painting by Caravaggio, his audience would have seen a similarity between the gestures of Jesus as he is seen pointing to Matthew.

It is said that Pope Francis often viewed the painting multiple times because he was so astounded by the beauty of the characters in it.

2. Narcissus

One of the most famous paintings by Caravaggio, Narcissus

Caravaggio took this impression from Ovid’s Metamorphosis 3.5, a story about Narcissus, a boy who was the son of the river god Cephissus.

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One of the most beautiful paintings of the Renaissance, Narcissus is a painting by Caravaggio in which the artist has painted a magical sense of atmosphere around the subject.

During the painting of Narcissus, the artist’s life was a part of a great mystery, as he was said to be in exile from Rome due to a possible murder of which he may have been a part.

This has come through in the loneliness that the viewer is struck by at first sight of the painting.

Narcissus is a proof of the influence of Lombard’s style of painting due to its use of lights and shadows in the background and foreground. 

It was once considered one of Caravaggio’s saddest paintings due to the melancholy seen in the subject’s eyes and reflection.

3. Medusa

One of the most famous paintings of Caravaggio, Medusa.

Medusa, which is similar to Da Vinci’s painting, is regarded as one of the most famous mythological paintings by Caravaggio

The time was when the artist had started experiencing fame and attention for the artwork he had made, which made him make a substantial amount of wealth.

This painting on a shield was commissioned by Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte, who wanted it to be a ceremonial symbol of the courage of the Duke of Tuscany.

While painting, Caravaggi used great trickery to divert the gaze away from him so that he would be the only one who was safe from the petrification due to the head.

Another reason Medusa gained a lot of popularity was because of the expert technical abilities of the artist, which made the convex surface look concave.

4. Judith Beheading Holofernes

Judith Beheading Holofernes

In this masterpiece, Caravaggio describes another Biblical story, that of Judith.

This same story was painted by many artists and was a recurring theme as they attempted to show their own depiction of the story.

When Caravaggio took up this theme, he wanted his painting to show the triumph of humanity over tyranny.

The critics were especially surprised at the amount of gore that is shown in the painting, for which it was shunned in the beginning and called distasteful.

Later, they identified the influence of Da Vinci in the painter’s life through Caravaggio’s use of shadows.

One of the most famous paintings by Caravaggio, Judith Beheading Holofernes, is a masterpiece that is a symbol of strength and triumph.

5. Basket Of Fruit

Basket Of Fruit

Basket of Fruit, Caravaggio’s only surviving still-life painting, tests the viewer’s ability to gain more from very little.

He has depicted the stillness of time perfectly by showing the dew drops, the shapes of the leaves, and the color modulation of the fruits.

“Basket of Fruit” is often compared to a haiku because of its intense and striking message delivery in such a finer tone of color and subject matter.

These subjects are designed forthrightly which don’t consist of any form of mannerism or distinct formation.

It is only a still-life painting of casually piled-up fruits that are arranged with the same attention to detail as an architectural construction.

However, the intricate detail of the position of the basket as if it is just about to fall off gives a message of the importance of balance in life, making it one of the most famous paintings of still life.

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6. Saint Jerome Writing

Famous Caravaggio painting, Saint Jerome Writing

Saint Jerome Writing is one of the most famous paintings by Caravaggio. It was actually left unfinished because the artist was forced to flee Rome after committing a murder.

It holds great importance as this is the first portrayal of a medical worker, which has never been seen in any of the famous Renaissance paintings.

Unlike other paintings by Caravaggio, Saint Jerome Writing has a more fluid handling of the brush strokes and the paint, especially in the head, face, and left hand.

One of the most famous reasons for the popularity of the painting is the way it hints toward death. The artist cleverly uses the arm of Saint Jerome to draw the attention of the viewer to the skull perfectly placed in the background.

The skull signifies the stoppage of time, which can also be interpreted by the age and the sinewy arm of the subject.

Thought to be completed in 1605, Saint Jerome’s Writing is subjected to a lot of speculation about whether it was really painted by Caravaggio, as it was credited to Jusepe de Ribera for almost a century.

7. The Cardsharps

One of the most famous paintings by Caravaggio, The Cardsharps

Has it ever occurred to you that most of the paintings by Caravaggio portray people and themes in a very dark yet brightly contrasting lighting scheme? 

The Cardsharps was an excellent example of this exact chiaroscuro, which led to the birth of the Baroque movement.

In this exact Caravaggio painting, the scene is set with a couple of cheats and a dupe playing a hand of cards.

The Cardsharps is a painting that has frozen a moment in the most beautiful position.

Each character in the painting is immaculately positioned so that it shows the right amount of information to the viewer.

Capturing the attention of viewers is one thing, the other thing Cardsharps was known for was its revelation of characters that weren’t in the past.   

8. Bacchus


However, the painting appears to be a portrait of a boy dressed as an ancient god of wine, despite attempts by contemporary historians to portray Bacchus as an allegory or portrait of Christ.

Bacchus is a Caravaggio painting that is more about living symbolism than satire, which it was initially interpreted as.

Seen to be offering the viewer a glass of red wine, the boy is sporting a wig wreathed with black and white grapes.

The inspiration for one of the greatest paintings by Caravaggio was actually a statue owned by Antinous.

A peculiarity observed in this painting is that none of the objects in the painting give out shadows, which is a stark contrast from all the other Caravaggio paintings.

Also read: Rembrandt paintings that portray his mastery in portraits

9. The Beheading Of Saint John The Baptist 

Famous Caravaggio painting, The Beheading Of Saint John The Baptist

The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist is one of the only signed paintings by Caravaggio. Seeing Saint Baptist’s throat bleed while the artist’s signature is being created is a little unsettling.

Highlighting the painting is the fantastic use of the lush brown hints of rapid brushwork, which allow the ground to show through, which can be explained as the “classicism” of composition used by Caravaggio. 

Caravaggio used a very muted palette of colors to make sure that the viewer is induced by dark thoughts or at least thinks of it as a villainous scene.

Something like this was very common in the post-Neapolitan era of the paintings by Caravaggio, where the subjects appeared to be frozen in time.

The biggest conspiracy around this painting is that this was Caravaggio’s way of accepting that he was in some way responsible for a murder. But this is mere speculation, and this painting never led to his prosecution.

10. David With The Head Of Goliath

One of the most famous paintings by Caravaggio, David With The Head Of Goliath

The main motive for this painting was to serve as a pardon for his involvement in the murder of a citizen of Rome.

One of Caravaggio’s darkest paintings, it plays with the viewer’s psyche and focuses on Goliath’s head.

This sent a very deep message about the triumph of justice, making David the allegory for it.

Unlike Michelangelo’s David, which puts the entire focus on David just after the battle, in this famous painting of Caravaggio, a light halo can be seen around David’s face, which confirms that it was an image of the aftermath.

What is interesting is the expression of David, which is one of grief, complementing that of Goliath, who is completely devastated.


Caravaggio was an art hero, a deviant who made sure that each of his paintings made a statement.

Although shrouded by the lack of information on his stays while in exile or missing paintings, his standing in the art world is backed by many famous paintings that he painted during his active time.

Most of Caravaggio’s famous paintings are stored and seen as symbols of his legacy. Which he established through his mastery of brushstrokes and as the father of Baroque painting. His artworks were later taken up by many famous painters of the modern world.

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I hope you enjoyed reading my article on paintings by Caravaggio.

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