Teaching English with Art: Winslow Homer. This eighth volume of our successful series of eBooks combining ENGLISH TEACHING AND ART is a wonderful supplement to any coursebook or extra materials your students may already be using in the English class. It contains 30 vocabulary, speaking and writing activities for classroom use, based on some of the most striking works by the best American artist of the XIX century.
The objective of the eBook is to expose the students to art while teaching English, fulfilling therefore one of the tenets of effective language acquisition: providing a realistic context for the language to be learned and practiced as a means to an end. Your students will love to exercise their English discussing the works of Winslow Homer. This is a proven way to make language acquisition fun and effective by creating in the classroom an atmosphere of interest, motivation and emotion. Each activity is clearly correlated to the COMMON EUROPEAN FRAMEWORK OF REFERENCE (CEFR), and the level is stated next to it.
IMPORTANT NOTE. CUSTOMIZATION: if you wish to change the cover of any of the ebooks, add your school logo, negotiate a special price for a determined number of students, or make other suggestions of customization, do not hesitate to talk to us. We are VERY FLEXIBLE. Make your ebook UNIQUE!
Click on the image below to download the ebook:
Click on the image above to get your copy from the Kindle Store.
Phil Wade (please refer to his biodata at the bottom of this post) has been very supportive of my series of eBooks TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART from the very beginning. Last week he asked me if he could interview me for the ELT EBOOKS BLOG (www.eltebooks.wordpress.com ) he’s in charge of. He is an eBook writer himself and understands that the more we talk about these new trends and educate people about the cutting-edge work we are doing, the more informed the English Language Teaching (ELT) community will be, and, as a consequence, school coordinators, teachers, parents and students will be able to make better choices regarding the materials they adopt. Ebooks and self-publishing are the future of the industry, and I’m glad we chose to be on board this early. Here’s the interview as published in his blog.
Teaching English with Art. Click on the picture above to get your copy.
Phil: What is your opinion of the current ELT ebook market?
Jorge Sette: Like all the other markets, the ELT book market is undergoing a radical transformation. It’s becoming digital. However, there is still a lot of resistance to this new reality. Teachers and parents of course, because of their age, tend to be more conservative, and therefore will prefer the use of print materials as a rule. It feels more tangible to them. On the other hand, even more forward-thinking or younger teachers, and also students, are not used to paying for anything they get from the Internet, which makes it difficult for ELT publishers and writers to go fully digital, as the business model has not been fully established yet. However, I firmly believe there’s no going back, and in the very near future we will all be reading and studying from tablets, smartphones and other devices. I myself have been reading mainly eBooks, e-magazines and e-newspapers for the past 5 years or so. And paying for them too (laugh).
Phil: How do you write your ebooks?
Jorge Sette: Well I love art and love English teaching, so it was only natural for me to combine both passions. I uploaded some free presentations involving teaching English in the context of art on SlideShare a couple of years ago and found out lots of other teachers liked the idea too. I realized then there was a market for these materials, as they were not common in the ELT world. So I decided to write a series of supplementary eBooks on vocabulary, speaking and writing which would tap into famous works of art as a springboard for exercises to be done in the language classroom. My writing process is the following: I tend to choose artists who are famous to start with. Then I go thorough their works on the Internet or print books I have at home to decide if their paintings lend themselves easily to the creation of classroom activities. Then I read a coupe of well-known biographies on the painter and watch videos about his works on YouTube, so I understand their life, style and motivations better. Even if very little of this homework is reflected directly in the books themselves, I know I will write better if I have this background knowledge and information about the artist stored in my head when I start developing the tasks.
Phil: What feedback have you received?
Jorge Sette: I have run some campaigns on Amazon.com where some of my eBooks are given away for free, as it’s important to get the word out, and have key teachers get to know and talk about them. These campaigns function in the same way publishers give free samples to teachers aiming at getting an adoption for their print materials. There have been hundreds of downloads throughout the world during these campaigns. However, not everybody who downloads the materials gives us feedback. Many teachers, though, have written to me directly saying they loved the books and that their students have been benefitting from the activities. Of course most people who care to write to us are the ones who have a positive opinion, so I still need to investigate more on how the books can be improved, as I haven’t received much negative feedback to help me in this direction.
Phil: Why does Art appeal to so many different kinds of teachers?
Jorge Sette: Well, teaching English with art is a powerful tool. I summarized all the advantages of using art in the language class in a post I wrote for my blog LINGUAGEM, which your readers can access by clicking here: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1jO
As a summary, though, I would say that teachers like it because it makes the lesson more fun and, therefore, more motivating. It allows the inclusion, in the English class, of other subjects studied in the curriculum, such as a history, geography, mythology, psychology and literature. In addition to that, art involves emotion, which makes language more relevant and memorable. And, finally, its flexibility makes it easy for teachers to personalize exercises and allows for open answers and freer practice, which is an important phase in the language acquisition process: if the students use the language to express their own reality, dreams, experiences and aspirations, chances are their development as language learners will improve.
Phil: Which is your favourite activity from your ebooks and why?
Jorge Sette: I myself love the storytelling activities, both oral and written. Everyone loves a good story, and if you can create your own version of a story based on a painting, you will certainly enjoy the process. I encourage the use of process writing in the eBooks, which shifts the focus to drafting rather than coming up with a final product immediately. The more drafts a student produces the better writer she will become. Having said that, I suspect different students will enjoy different kinds of activities, so we provide a huge variety of exercises to cater for different tastes and learning styles.
ABOUT PHIL WADE:
Phil has been designing, managing and teaching English courses in language schools, universities and companies for 15 years. He has also written numerous articles and elearning courses. His current passion is ebooks and has written 11 ebooks and co-written several others. He is currently working on a Business English ebook due out in January. Phil blogs about ELT ebooks at www.eltebooks.wordpress.com
Teaching English with Art: Vincent van Gogh. This seventh volume of our successful series of eBooks combining ENGLISH TEACHING AND ART is a wonderful supplement to any coursebook or extra materials your students may already be using in the English class. It contains 30 speaking and writing activities (now including specific vocabulary exercises) for classroom use, based on some of the most striking works by one of the most beloved and controversial artists of Western Culture, VINCENT VAN GOGH.
The objective of the eBook is to expose the students to art while teaching English, fulfilling therefore one of the tenets of effective language acquisition: providing a realistic context for the language to be learned and practiced as a means to an end. Your students will love to exercise their English discussing the works of van Gogh. This is a proven way to make language acquisition fun and effective by creating in the classroom an atmosphere of interest, motivation and emotion. Each activity is clearly correlated to the COMMON EUROPEAN FRAMEWORK OF REFERENCE (CEFR), and the level is stated next to it.
Click on the image below to download the ebook:
Click on the image above to get your copy from the KINDLE STORE.
Check out the video clip on the ebook TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: VINCENT VAN GOGH
In the early 1940s, Matisse underwent a serious and invasive surgery as part of treatment for intestinal cancer. After the operation, he was a very different person, lacking the energy and strength to be on his feet for long stretches of time at the easel painting on a canvas.
However, he was about to start a revolutionary new phase in his artistic life. Despite his physical weakness, his mind seemed to be ablaze with creativity and many say he was given a second life. This resurrection manifested itself mainly through a new art form he began to develop at the time: his famous cut-outs. Instead of painting, Matisse would now spend his days in bed or in a wheelchair, cutting out, with huge tailor scissors, abstract forms directly from gouache-painted sheets of paper, and then, with the help of assistants, pin them against a white background in striking and original compositions.
He would constantly move the pieces around until he was fully satisfied with the final result of these “collage-like” designs. The colors were vibrant and pure, lending the composition a life-affirming quality. Icarus is one of the most famous works from this period.
Icarus. 1947. Illustration for the book Jazz.
The Legend of Icarus
In Greek mythology, Icarus and his father Daedalus, a master craftsman from ancient Athens, were made prisoners on the island of Crete after helping Ariadne and Theseus escape from the Minotaur’s labyrinth, which Daedalus himself had designed for King Minus.
The Minotaur was a creature with the head of a bull and the body of a man who lived in the center of the labyrinth
Daedalus plotted to escape from his prison by making wings of feather and wax for himself and his son. However, he warned Icarus against flying too close to the sun because his wings would melt. Icarus, in the typical fashion of bold young men, disobeyed his father’s instructions and soared to the heights, coming dangerously close to the sun. His wings melted and he plunged to the sea, drowning. The story of Icarus is usually used as a cautionary tale against excessive ambition.
Many critics and viewers suspect that there is an alternative source of inspiration to the Icarus cut-out. What do you think it might be? What may this work represent if not necessarily the legend of Icarus?
Imagine that this work is about the horrors of war instead. After all, Matisse put it together soon after the end of the Second World War. In this case, what do you think each element of the cut-out stands for? Think about this interpretation and try to see the elements of the work in the light of this new context. It will add a lot to it.
For those of you who are English Teachers and love Matisse and art in general, we offer a wonderful collection of didactic eBooks for the students to practice vocabulary, speaking and writing, based on the works of famous painters: TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART. The series is comprised of 7 books so far, and features works by Matisse, Picasso, Caravaggio, Monet, Norman Rockwell and Vincent van Gogh. For further information on how to download the materials, please click here: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS
Click on the image above to learn more about the advantages of TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART.
As most of you know, we have launched a series of supplementary eBooks, TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART, based on the works of famous artists, to help the students practice their English (for further info on the series, please click here http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS).
We have received an overwhelming response in terms of feedback. Sales fortunately are doing well too. However, we realized that some teachers are hesitating to use the materials for a number of reasons. Having gone through all the feedback we have been getting, we decided to write this post to answer some of the most frequently asked questions by teachers (or even students) about the materials.
I can’t teach English through art!
1. Do I need to be an art specialist to teach from these books? Of course not. The idea of these books is to extend vocabulary, speaking and writing practice, providing more interesting and customizable topics that resonate better with the students and foster more engaging and genuine participation in the classroom. You are a language teacher, no one expects you to be an art connoisseur. Treat the topic as you would any other topic you find in more traditional course books. All the info you need about the particular artist featured in the eBook (so far, we have Matisse, Picasso, Caravaggio, Monet and Norman Rockwell) can be found in the introduction to the book.
2. What should I teach the students about the artist? As I said before, you will find a quiz and a brief summary on the artist’s life and times in the introduction to the book and some texts on more specific topics related to a certain painting after or before some exercises. Basically we should give the students some idea on why this artist gained so much popularity, what are the main characteristics of his/her style and the historical context he/she lived in. If possible, add an interesting anecdote about his/her life to lend some color to your lesson: such as the fact the Caravaggio is allegedly the only great artist who committed murder; or that Monet dedicated his time to art as much as he did to gardening in his old age; or that Picasso did most of his work in a dark and damp studio at night using the feeble light of candles. A quick watch on a couple of videos on YouTube will give you a lot more info than you can possibly need, if you wish to expand your understanding of the artist. Alternatively, you can assign this pre-research to the students themselves, as part of the lesson: “get all the info you can on (artist’s name) and be prepared to talk about him/her at the beginning of the next class”
Artist’s life and times. Guernica by Picasso.
3. I don’t know anything about topic/task based speaking activities or process writing. As these are the main methodological points used in the series you should familiarize yourself with them. These are important areas any language teacher should master. You need to study them. A good start with be to read the following posts in this blog: Topic-Based versus Task-Based Speaking Activities (http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1nJ) and Writing: Focus on the Process not on the Product (http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1ot).
4. I can’t deal with technology. These are eBooks, so I completely understand the resistance some teachers may feel towards them. Not many people read eBooks yet. However, believe me, this is the future and there’s no way back. You can check all the practicalities of ebooks in the following post 7 Reasons I prefer eBooks to Print ones: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-yC. As for our series, all you and your students need to do is download the KINDLE app for free and install it on any device you can possibly have. It works in all systems, mobile or desktop. Get help from your students, they will know how to do it. And they will feel pleased to show the teacher how tech savvy they are. Then go to the KINDLE STORE on Amazon.com and download the eBook of your choice.
Print books versus eBooks
5. Which book shall I pick? At this point, we have 5 eBooks featuring a different artist each (Matisse, Picasso, Caravaggio, Monet and Norman Rockwell). They are all very popular and liked all over the world. But of course, you and your students will have your preferences. Each book has exercises at different levels (from beginner to advanced), so my recommendation would be for you to conduct a needs analysis with your class before choosing the first book. Show them the covers, show paintings (loads of pictures available on the Internet) by each artist and get them to vote for the first artist they wish to work with. I’m sure your lessons will become so succsessful you will cover the whole set of eBooks we have on offer eventually though :).
TeachingEnglish with Art: 5 artists to pick from. Matisse, Picasso, Caravaggio, Monet and Norman Rockwell.
I hope we could answer some of your questions here. Good luck with the lessons and do not hesitate to contact me if you have more questions. We will be launching more eBooks of the series TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART soon.
Monet is the quintessential Impressionist artist. His paintings sell for millions of dollars today. He is one of the most beloved artists in history and enjoyed a long and productive life, spanning almost 90 years. You will not find many people who do not like his paintings. Maybe because most of them were painted in plein air or open air, the outdoors, and not confined to dark studios, a new characteristic adopted by some artists as of the 1870s. This new way of painting was facilitated by the easiness of transportation provided by the steam vapor trains, the more easily to carry easels and the new paints bought in the recently-fabricated screw-top collapsible tubes.
These points I listed below summarize the life and work of one of the greatest artists the Western Culture has ever produced. You can read and possibly quote from them to sound more knowleageble and sophisticated at the next dinner party you attended, if, despite loving Monet’s ouvre like most people, you don’t know much about him.
1, He was born as Claude Oscar Monet on 14 November 1840 in Paris, but spent most of his childhood on the northern coast of France, Le Havre, where his family had moved to in his early infancy.
2. He was utterly bored in the traditional school and spent most of the time drawing caricatures of his teachers and other well-known people in the town. His caricatures became very popular and he started selling them at local store, being able to earn a living very early in life.
3. He happened to meet a plein air landscape painter, Boudin, who practically became his coach and mentor, developing in Monet the taste for painting seascapes and landscapes, observing the fleeting reflections of the sunlight in the sea water, trees and leaves. After his apprenticeship with Boudin, it was hard for Monet to be happy painting or copying famous works of art as a trainee confined in the crowded rooms of museums and art galleries. His painting was all about vibrant colors, vivid scenes, ordinary people often seen at a distance, the effects of light at different times of day and in different seasons upon the same objects. An obsession for water and its innumerable ways of being represented on canvas. Monet wanted to paint contemporary life the way it appeared to him.
Beach at Honfleur by Monet, Claude. 1864
4. Monet was sent by his parents to the Acadeémie Suisse in Paris, whose flexibility and respect for the individual idissioncrasies of the students resonated with Monet’s personality. Soon afterwards he was called up for military service, though, and served with the armies in Algeria. He claims that the exposure to the light and motifs in Africa had a great influence on his style of painting. He did not stay long in the army however. Family influence and health problems allowed him to be discharged after two years.
5. Back to school in Paris, he started as an apprentice in the studio of Charles Gleyre in 1862, where he was lucky to meet what was to compose the core of the impressionist group of painters in the future: Renoir, Sisley and Bazille. They became inseparable friends, spending a lot of time painting together outside of Paris in the forest of Fontainebleau.
6. It was very difficult for this wave of new painters to have their works accepted by the conservative official artistic exhibition in Paris, the Salón, held ever year at the Académie des Beux-Ar, which attracted thousands of visitors. The Salón favored more traditional works of art, with perfect finishes, depicting usually historical, mythological or religious subjects. Those paintings, done in dark colors, replicated the techniques known since the Renaisssance and covered the walls from ceiling to floor.
Dejeuner sur l’Herbe, Chailly by Monet, Claude. 1865
7. Despite having a few works accepted at the Salón, such as the Woman in the Green Dress, inspired by the woman he loved and lived with at the time, Camille Doncieux, who posed for it, Monet and his friends had most of his works refused by the Salón, which led them eventually to create their own exhibitions.
Camille (The Woman in the Green Dress) by Monet, Claude. 1866
8. To escape the Franco-Prussian war in 1870, Monet, already married to Camille and with a son, moved to London, living there for some time and returning via Holland. Many of his works were painted in these countries, where he was heavily influenced by the contact with the works of Turner and Constable.
9. In 1874, the group of new artists decided to produce the first of their own parallel exhibitions, which, ridiculed at the beginning and attracting very few attendants, was ferociously attacked by the art critics. A famous art critic involuntarily named the movement IMPRESSIONISM, when making derisive comments about a Monet’s painting titled Impression: Sunrise, which showed a simple blotch of red color representing the sun hovering over the sea and casting its reflections on the water for the delight of a few early fishermen in a couple of boats. The artists of the movement did not not take the critic seriously and started using the name for their style, as they had enjoyed what was meant as an insult. The exhibition grew every year, being repeated 8 times over the course of the next 12 years. As times moved on, the eyes and minds of the viewers, influenced by the increasing praise of art critics, began to appreciate and accept the new artistic movement.
Impression, soleil levant (Impression, Sunrise) by Monet, Claude. 1872
10. Around 1990 Monet started developing his famous series paintings: featuring haystacks, poplars, the cathedral of Rouen and the famous water lilies, which he showed in a number of sequential cavasses, many of them painted one after the other, with the artist moving from one canvas to the next, arranged in a row in the fields, so that he could capture the slight variations of the effects of the changing light on the subjects, as the sun moved in the sky. He would work on them in a sequence of consecutive days.
11. A heavy smoker, Monet died of lung cancer on 5 December 1926 in his house in Giverny in 1926, where he had created a wonderful garden and a pond in the grounds of the property, which he began to use as the main topics of his latest paintings. He lived a full, long, productive and recognized artistic life. His house and garden in Giverny are famous and popular turistic sites in today’s France.
For those of you who are English Teachers and love Monet and art in general, we offer a wonderful collection of didactic eBooks for the students to practice vocabulary, speaking and writing, based on the works of famous painters: TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART. The series is comprised of 5 books so far, and features works by Matisse, Picasso, Caravaggio, Monet and Norman Rockwell. For further information on how to download the materials, please click here: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS
Check this brief video on the material on TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: MONET:
Hope you enjoy the ebooks. Give us your feedback by rating them on Amazon.com or by writing some feedback in the comments section of this blog post.
Teaching English with Art! This ebook is a wonderful supplement to any coursebook or extra materials your students may already be using in the English class. It contains 30 speaking and writing activities for classroom use, based on some of the most striking works by one of the most loved American artists of the XX century, NORMAN ROCKWELL, famous for his illustrations. The objective of the ebook is to expose the students to art while teaching English, fulfilling therefore one of the tenets of effective language acquisition: providing a realistic context for the language to be learned and practiced as a means to an end. Your students will love to exercise their English discussing the works of Rockwell This is a proven way to make language acquisition fun and effective by creating in the classroom an atmosphere of interest and motivation. Each activity is clearly correlated to the COMMON EUROPEAN FRAMEWORK OF REFERENCE (CEFR), and the level is stated next to it.
Click on the image below to download the ebook:
Click to the image above to download the eBook.
Take a moment to watch the video clip of TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: NORMAN ROCKWELL
Despite Steven Krashen’s famous methodology of language acquisition, in which he claims students must go through a silent period before they can speak, we know how anxious our students are to start producing the target language from day 1. This silent period is the time learners need to be exposed to enough comprehensible input so they can absorb the language and be able to speak it. It emulates what happens when kids acquire their first language. Having said that, it’s a fact that motivation also plays a key part in language learning, and setting up speaking activities from the very beginning of the language course will not, in my opinion, have any negative effect on the students’ development: they will not be able to do much, though, but that is OK. Motivation will work wonders. The elementary level, which is usually known as A2 in the Common European Framework benchmark, would be the ideal moment to start with speaking activities, but don’t worry too much if you have to do it earlier to please your students.
Teachers usually complain about the same problems when they set up speaking activities: students might not know what to say, they are shy to speak in public, they don’t know enough about the topic, they are not that interested in the topic.
Your students don’t know what to say.
So, as a teacher and teacher trainer, with many years of experience, and with the help of a number of methodology books I have read throughout my career, I would humbly suggest a few tips to get your speaking activities going smoothly in the language class. See the main points below:
1. Decide whether the activity will be task or topic-based: a task-based activity typically involves the use of language as a means to an end. The students, for example, are given a problem (e.g. give each pair of students a list of 10 objects and ask them to discuss and negotiate the following problem: you are stranded on a desert island, if you could pick 5 of these 10 objects to have with you on the island, which ones would you both pick?). To pick the objects, they will have to justify their choices. On the other hand, a topic-based activity requires the students to discuss or talk about a specific subject (e.g. what’s your country’s situation concerning racism?) The more they are able to personalize the topic, contributing their own opinions and experiences, the more they will have to say about it. If you wish to read more on this, please refer to my previous post “Topic-Based versus Task-Based Speaking Activities”: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1nJ
2. Give them context (input): Before setting up an activity, expose the students to some linguistic or visual context, so they can rely on some form of scaffold to help them structure their output. The stimulus can be established through a text, a picture, a video clip or a listening passage, for example. But it’s important that the teacher introduce the topic, or brainstorm some vocabulary and ideas about it before having the students talk about it.
3. Brainstorm: depending on the input the teacher chooses to use in the step above, the brainstorm will be more or less controlled. If the students have been given a written text, for example, the teacher should work on it and exploit some ideas and related vocabulary and grammar. If the teacher starts by showing a painting by a famous artist, the brainstorming will have to be longer and less controlled. The students will probably have to learn some new vocabulary as well, get to know something about the artist and his times, or even his style and technique. Always elicit info from the students before spoon-feeding them with ready-made answers: you might be surprised about the vocabulary they already have or their knowledge about the topic.
4. Get them to work in pairs and/or small groups as often as possible: do not put the students in the awkward position of speaking in front of the whole class right at the beginning of the exercise. Give them time to prepare their answers. The best way to do that is, of course, to put them in pairs or little groups, so they can participate more and not feel intimidated by a big audience. Many times they won’t even have to speak to the whole class at the end, or you could ask only for volunteers to share their work. During the activity, however, make sure you go around not only monitoring the different groups but also lending them a hand.
5. Focus on fluency: the aim of the speaking activities we are discussing in this post is not to drill grammar points or practice vocabulary, or even pronunciation, in a controlled way. As the students produce their utterances, make a mental note or write down discreetly some of the most common mistakes made, especially the ones that involve grammar or vocabulary already taught in previous lessons. Do not interrupt the students for correction, unless you don’t understand what is being said. Decide on what you are going to focus on for correction in each activity, then, at the end, or in a future lesson, list the mistakes on a handout and pass them to the learners, so they can correct the mistakes in pairs, without necessarily naming the perpetrators.
6. Personalize the activity: people like to talk about their own experiences. Design questions that allow them to talk about their own tastes, aspirations, experiences and life in general.
7. Make the questions as opened-ended as possible: to make this personalization possible, try to design questions that allow for open-ended answers, do not look for right/wrong answers, but for opinions and suggestions.
8. Make the activity as relevant as possible: choose topics or direct the discussion towards a path that is relevant to the group of students you have. The same speaking activity can be slightly changed to reflect the reality and interests of a different group of students. The closer they feel to the topic being discussed or the task being proposed the more productive the result will be.
Some speaking activities will go better than others, as you know. Don’t give up on a well-prepared exercise if it does not work well with a particular group of students. Try it a number of times with other students: it might work better. The important thing to remember is the more the students are exposed to linguistic input, by either reading or listening, the more fluent and accurate their delivery will be eventually. So make sure you focus on receptive skills especially at the earlier levels of the course your are teaching before worrying too much about the success of the speaking activities.
If you need help with materials, we have an excellent series of eBooks with ready-made vocabulary, speaking and writing activities to make your life easier. It’s called TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART, with 8 books so far. It features f works by famous artists, such as Matisse, Picasso, Caravaggio, Monet, Norman Rockwell, van Gogh and Winslow Homer which will function as a springboard to contextualize topic and task-based activities, as well a process writing practice. For further info, please click here http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS
Michelangelo Merise was born in Milan in 1571 and grew up in a town nearby called Caravaggio, hence his artistic name.
He grew up in times of severe religiosity, brought about by the Counter-Reformation, whose objective was to stop the advance of Protestantism, having Catholics return to a more austere and simpler form of Christianity, based on the cult of Jesus, Mary, the saints and martyrs of earlier times. They tried to accomplish these objectives through repression (the Inquisition) and propaganda (buildings and works of art). The austere values of the Counter-Reformation deeply impregnated and influenced Caravaggio’s paintings.
After a couple of years as an apprentice in Milan, Caravaggio moved to Rome in his early 20s, where, alone, hungry and penniless, he had to compete with a great number of other artists who flocked to what was considered the center of the world to make it as a famous painter. His career really took off when he fell under the protection of a very well-connected patron, Cardinal del Monte, who changed his life.
It didn’t take long for Caravaggio to acquire fame. Boosted by his patron’s connections, his network grew steadily. Endowed with a very original and unique artistic style, he was soon considered the best painter in Italy. He became famous mainly for his dramatic use of light and shadows, in a style known as tenebrism (chiaroscuro), in which he painted biblical, mythological and everyday scenes in a very naturalistic way. The mission of a painter, according to Caravaggio, was to represent real life with all its flaws, ugliness, and occasional beauty.
Conversion of Saint Paul on the Road to Damascus, 1601.
Caravaggio, however, had a very difficult personality. Short-tempered and with a violent streak, he was wild. Roaming the mean streets of Rome after nightfall, he would very often get into fights and brawls. He frequented taverns and brothels, always carrying his sword, which was illegal, and he did not hesitate to use it whenever provoked. Those were hard times and he was the object of much jealousy and envy.
Extremely volatile and abrasive, Caravaggio was eventually involved in murder. He got into a fight over a tennis match and ended up killing his opponent. This probably makes him the only great artist ever to commit murder. Banished from Rome, he fled to Naples, where he started a new life and was soon given commissions by important people to paint again.
From there, he moved to Malta, hoping to become one of the famous Knights of Malta, a combination of military and religious order which was formed to defend Christianity against its enemies. Difficult as it was for most people to enter the order, his powerful connections were at work again here and he managed to be accepted. This was meant to be the first step to get him a papal pardon, which would allow him to return to Rome.
Judith beheading Holofernes, 1598/99
However, the circumstances and his harsh personality again hindered his plans. He got in trouble in Malta, and from then on, lived in the run for over 2 years, moving constantly to places such as Syracuse and Palermo in Sicily, and again back to Naples, where more trouble awaited. Finally he seems to have been stricken by a fever and died alone on a beach in Porto Ercole, supposedly on his way back to Rome. His body was never found.
If you are interested in Caravaggio, please check out our eBook series TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS