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Caravaggio's innovation was a radical naturalism that combined close physical observation with a dramatic, even theatrical, use of chiaroscuro that came to be known as tenebrism (the shift from light to dark with little intermediate value).

Known works from this period include a small Boy Peeling a Fruit (his earliest known painting), a Boy with a Basket of Fruit, and the Young Sick Bacchus, supposedly a self-portrait done during convalescence from a serious illness that ended his employment with Cesari.

Minniti served Caravaggio as a model and, years later, would be instrumental in helping him to obtain important commissions in Sicily.

Ostensibly, the first archival reference to Caravaggio in a contemporary document from Rome is the listing of his name, with that of Prospero Orsi as his partner, as an 'assistante' in a procession in October 1594 in honour of St. An early published notice on Caravaggio, dating from 1604 and describing his lifestyle three years previously, recounts that "after a fortnight's work he will swagger about for a month or two with a sword at his side and a servant following him, from one ball-court to the next, ever ready to engage in a fight or an argument, so that it is most awkward to get along with him." The Fortune Teller, his first composition with more than one figure, shows a boy, likely Minniti, having his palm read by a gypsy girl, who is stealthily removing his ring as she strokes his hand.

It is assumed that the artist grew up in Caravaggio, but his family kept up connections with the Sforzas and with the powerful Colonna family, who were allied by marriage with the Sforzas and destined to play a major role later in Caravaggio's life.

Caravaggio's mother died in 1584, the same year he began his four-year apprenticeship to the Milanese painter Simone Peterzano, described in the contract of apprenticeship as a pupil of Titian.

Following his initial training under Simone Peterzano, in 1592 Caravaggio left Milan for Rome, in flight after "certain quarrels" and the wounding of a police officer. In Rome there was demand for paintings to fill the many huge new churches and palazzos being built at the time.

The young artist arrived in Rome "naked and extremely needy ... It was also a period when the Church was searching for a stylistic alternative to Mannerism in religious art that was tasked to counter the threat of Protestantism.

His influence on the new Baroque style that emerged from Mannerism was profound.

He developed a considerable name as an artist, and as a violent, touchy and provocative man.

A brawl led to a death sentence for murder and forced him to flee to Naples.

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It can be seen directly or indirectly in the work of Peter Paul Rubens, Jusepe de Ribera, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, and Rembrandt, and artists in the following generation heavily under his influence were called the "Caravaggisti" or "Caravagesques", as well as tenebrists or tenebrosi ("shadowists").

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