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Caravaggio and Cardinal del Monte

Francesco Maria del Monte was an Italian Cardinal and diplomat in the late 1500s with a desire to one day be Pope.  He was an avid art lover and is now best known as an early patron of Baroque artist Caravaggio.  His art collection, the Del Monte Collection, contained nearly 600 pieces upon his death.

An art dealer brought Caravaggio’s work, The Cardsharps, to the attention of Cardinal Del Monte around 1595.  He purchased the work along with Caravaggio’s The Fortune Teller.  This was a defining moment for Caravaggio who was then hired by Del Monte and his wealthy art-loving circle to execute a number of chamber-pieces.  Caravaggio was also given lodging by the Cardinal in his household, Palazzo Madama.  While there Caravagio painted many of his famous works including, Rest on the Flight into Egypt, Mary Magdalene and the Ecstasy of St Francis.

The Cardsharps

The Cardsharps

Del Monte also had Caravaggio paint the ceiling decoration for the studiolo of the Casino where he practiced his alchemical experiments.  He painted the gods Neptune, Jupiter, and Pluto to represent the Elements.

It is presumed that Caravaggio’s 1599 commission to decorate the Contarelli Chapel for the San Luigi dei Francesi church was accomplished through the influence of Del Monte. Caravaggio was only 24 years old at the time and created three paintings on the life of St. Matthew, The Calling of St. Matthew, The Inspiration of St.Matthew and The Martyrdom of St. MatthewThe paintings were a controversial sensation with their realistic and dramatic nature that hadn’t been seen before.  Some found fault with the paintings but others hailed him as an artistic visionary.  These paintings launched a grander career for Caravaggio allowing him to move beyond the small inexpensive works he had been creating for Del Monte and his circle. 

Also in Del Monte’s collection were Caravaggio’s The Musicians and The Lute PlayerHowever, Caravaggio eventually left Del Monte’s household and moved on to work for the Mattei who paid him better and provided him a greater public importance. 

The Musicians

The Musicians

The Lute Player

The Lute Player

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