In the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica (Palazzo Barberini) in Rome, there is now an exhibition entitled Caravaggio and his followers. This exhibition consists of about 60 paintings, coming from the Gallery's collection, even if some of them were not visible from most of the public because they were left with civil offices or kept in the Gallery's store houses. The purpose of this exhibition is to show the way that naturalistic painting did follow since 1600, when Caravaggio was still alive, until its substantial decline around 1640.
As a matter of fact the way this exhibition was entitled caused some confusion in the pubblic who expected to find many Caravaggio's paintings in addition to those of his followers who are often unkown names. On the contrary there are only four paintings by Caravaggio and two of them are very interesting Giuditta and Oloferne and Narciso. Thanks to these paintings people should understand how the painting of Caravaggio's followers was done. Even if the theme of this exhibition is not very suitable to the understanding of people who visit it by themselves, there is however a very clear and understandable catalogue which can help people very well.
Caravaggio was one of few great artists who could leave his mark upon art both in his period an in the following one.
Though he was imitated and copied out by a multitude of painters, they did not understand the deep religous feelings of his art and they imitated only the form results. This incomprehension is probably due to Caravaggio himself, because as he had a difficult and baseful disposition (but not so bad tempered as people say) he never had direct apprentices. So, when in Seventeenth century his paintings started to be particularly much sought after by people, other artists began to look at his painting and to imitate it. They particularly did study his naturalism, the way he used the light, the dark backgrounds and the foreground figures.
Caravaggio's followers can be divided into three important groups, which consist in three different generations: the first one consists of late mannerist painters who tried to renovate the way they portray by superposing some Caravaggio's components over components belonging to late sixteenth century, as a special use of light or a greatest attention to the reality. Some painters as Orazio Borgianni Santa famiglia con Sant'Elisabetta, San Giovannino e un angelo, Giovanni Baglioni Lavanda dei piedi, Carlo Saraceni Madonna col Bambino e Sant'Anna, knew personally Caravaggio but even if they realized the importance of his painting they did not understand him completely.
The second generation of Caravaggio's followers consists of artists who did not know him personally, but were trained in his paintings. They were led by Bartolomeo Manfredi, the author of the so-called "Manfrediana Methodus". That method consisted of the careful study of Caravaggio paintings from which those painters drew out some typical figures that they re-proposed differently but with Caravaggio's inner meaning. These paintings had almost always a profane character like Bacco e il Bevitore or Il Giocatore di Carte, that were painted by an unknown follower of Manfredi.
Among Manfrediana Methodus followers there are two schools, the Tuscan school and the Napolitan one. The first one distinguished themeselves by following the characteristics of Tuscan art like drawing and composition structure. Some painters who belong to this group were Orazio Riminaldi Sacrificio di Isacco and Pietro Paolini Madonna col Bambino e Santi. The second one distinguished themeselves by joining the naturalism , which was sometimes even very harsh. Some painters belonging to this group were Battistello Sant'Onofrio, Massimo Stanzione Pietà and Luca Giordano Cratete.
There was another particular current of Caravaggio's followers which was constituted by French and Flamish painters, who arrived in Rome in the second decade in seventeeth century and who wished to obtain Papal commissions and to have the opportunity to study important Italian painters. Among these foreign painters the more important were Simone Vouet and Gerard Hontorst, both of them had a personally style by mixing Caravaggio's style with their own way of painting. So Vouet conjugated naturalism with roman classicism and French painters like Valentin de Boulogne, tried to follow him with paintings as Giudizio di Salomone and Allegoria d'Italia. In this exhibition there is a Vouet's painting La buona ventura: now we know that it surely belongs to him. In fact, in 1997, during a restoration, a signed inscription was found on the back of the painting dated 1613. This makes us consider this painting as the first painting of Vouet's roman period. Honthorts, on the contrary, was concentrated about the light problem and he introduced in his paintings several sources of light, which often were candle or brands. This was immediatly successful and was followed by other painters in paintings as Vanità by Michele Sweert, Artista nel suo studio or Sansone e Dalila by Mathias Storm.
The influence and the style of Caravaggio's painting ended substantially around the third decade of sevententh century in favour of classicist painting. After this date only Flemish painters continued to follow Caravaggio's naturalism.