Caravaggio has been called the most influential artist of his time. His revolutionary style involved dramatic contrasts between light and dark, giving his art work a sense of theatricality. He also dramatically changed the relationship between the viewer and the artwork, dissolving all barriers and allowing for the viewer (rich or poor) to become a person involved in what the artwork is depicting. You get a sense of darkness when looking at some of Caravaggio’s paintings, which could be a way of expressing what he was feeling at that point in his life.
Narcissus is one of the few paintings Caravaggio did over classical mythology.
The legend states that Narcissus was blessed with an unmatched beauty and in is vain youth he rejected all the advances of women. When one day he came across his reflection in a pool the young boy feel in love with himself. He was so fixated on his reflection that he refused to eat or drink, ultimately his vanity was the death of him. When he died his body was transformed into a yellow flower.
The darkness in the background really draws the viewer’s eye to the illuminated foreground of the painting, which is a typical technique of Caravaggio. You can clearly see how focused the subject of the painting is on his own reflection. As a viewer I get the sense that I am in the pool of water watching the young boy, who is completely unaware of my existence. I find myself thinking “don’t move” for I wouldn’t want to make a ripple in the water and possible break his concentration. It can be speculated that this painting was a vanitas, which purpose was to warn the youth of the danger of pleasures of vanity and nativity. It could be possible that Caravaggio himself was experiencing some of the repercussions of his actions, which I think could have been his inspiration for this painting.