Online Course

Deepen your knowledge and expand your horizons by registering for an online, interactive art history course taught by Elaine Ruffolo.

Upcoming class begins on Wednesday, October 6th:

Caravaggio: the Artist, his Times and his Legacy



I will be contacting registered students before the class begins to give login instructions so please provide an email address that you can check later. 

Registered students can access supplemental class information and recordings here:


The objective of this course is to arrive at an understanding of Caravaggio’s works within their historical context from the 17th century to the present day. During this course you will learn methods to analyze Baroque works of art in their form, meaning and visual symbolism; to relate artworks to their historical background; to understand the master’s artistic views and intentions; and to be able to recognize the major social and historical forces which conditioned Baroque art. The course does not require any specific prerequisites. 

Class time: Wednesdays from 7:00 to 8:30 pm

(1:00-2.30 pm in New York, 12:00 to 1:30 pm in Chicago, 11:00 am to 12:30 pm in Denver and 10:00 to 11:30 am in Los Angeles).


If you miss a class, it will be recorded and available for viewing at your convenience.

Class fee: $395.00 or €360.00 for the 7-week course

Course description: Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) was both a beloved and rejected painter of the Baroque era. His paintings, which often included realistic figures, theatrical lighting, and dark, obscure settings activated a deep sense of spiritual contemplation for many. Yet he was also critiqued for depicting shocking subjects and eschewing traditional painting standards. Caravaggio was offensive and provocative in art as in life. His painted drunks and thugs impersonating saints set in Rome’s filthy alleys and seedy taverns shook the art world to the core. Caravaggio sneered at classicism and the canons held sacred since the Renaissance and chose to rely on natural observation instead. 
Much has been made of his dramatic biography, which includes a lengthy arrest record, a murder, and a death in exile. This course focuses on issues of style, content, and patronage to understand Caravaggio’s art and its deeper implications. The latter will include issues such as the following:  was his rejection of refinement a criticism of the excesses of the church? Was it an appeal by the embattled Roman church to the poor and underprivileged? Or was it simply a radical avant-garde statement for its own sake? More important however is the art itself. The class will focus on the style of Caravaggio and its appeal. This will entail analyses of his technique and comparisons with the art of his contemporaries and followers. His rebellious, violent life which ended prematurely in a mysterious way have also captured the imagination of mass culture. Since the 1980s, fascination with mythical Caravaggio as "the ill-fated, subversive modern painter" has morphed into "Caravaggiomania", producing an overwhelming avalanche of publications on his life and art. 

Class Reading: 
Caravaggio: A Life by Helen Langdon
Publisher: Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1999 1st edition

Other suggested readings:
Howard Hibbard, Caravaggio (1985)
John T Spike, Caravaggio (2010)
Andrew Graham-Dixon, Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane. (2012)
Rudolf Wittkower, Art and Architecture in Italy, 1600-1750: Volume 2: The High Baroque, 1625-1675.  (1999)


October 6
Setting the Stage: Art and Style around 1600

Topics to be discussed: The development from Mannerism to the Baroque and the Council of Trent. Understanding the difference in style between Renaissance and Baroque. Caravaggio’s early life in Milan; his apprenticeship; and journey to Rome.

October 13
Caravaggio in Rome: Patronage, Cardinals and Debauchery

Topics to be discussed: Caravaggio’s early works: genre paintings; models and precedents for Caravaggio’s genre paintings; religious paintings (‘portraits’ of saints and narratives); models and precedents for Caravaggio’s religious paintings. Caravaggio working for Cardinal del Monte at Palazzo Madama. Caravaggio coming to the attention of Scipione Borghese. The Contarelli Chapel: Caravaggio’s first major commission and the final elaboration of his style: three scenes from the life of St. Matthew painted in darkness and with passion; St. Matthew and the Angel – his first rejected work. Caravaggio’s style was based on a radical rejection of classical convention (disegno, architectural setting and perspective) as well as decorum. 


October 20
The Most Famous Painter in Rome

Topics to be discussed:  Caravaggio refining his naturalist style showing multi-figured close-up horizontal compositions; the Supper at Emmaus to the Incredulity of Thomas. The Madonna dei Pellegrini: did his art reflect his social ideas? Caravaggio’s imitators: the case of Giovanni Baglione, Caravaggio’s follower, biographer and enemy; criticism for lack of decorum and disegno.

October 27 

November 3 
Mainstream Art Trends

Topics to be discussed: Caravaggio and his contemporaries. Caravaggio was not the only important artist in the 17th century Rome, he shared the stage with giants such as Rubens, Annibale Carracci, and Gian Lorenzo Bernini.  Compare and discuss the artist Rubens as the aristocratic artist and Caravaggio the man of the people, the competition between Caravaggio and Annibale Carracci and Gianlorenzo Bernini, the dominant artist of the day. The Cerasi Chapel: Caravaggio’s two paintings in the chapel (Conversion of St. Paul and Martyrdom of St. Peter) are set off against Carracci’s painting; this contrast raises questions about style, taste and patronage.


November 10
Caravaggio: The Last Act

Topics to be discussed: Caravaggio in Naples, Malta, and Sicily. Is his life tragedy reflected in his art: the darkness and suffering of the two Flagellations and the hope offered by the angel in the unusual Seven Works of Mercy? Caravaggio in Naples and Malta: the last great works; a horror scene: the Beheading of St. John the Baptist. The end at Porto Ercole.


November 17
The Legacy of Caravaggio

Topics to be discussed: During the decade after his death, a variety of artists followed him (the Caravaggisti) and explored his revolutionary innovations. Interest in Caravaggio spread beyond Rome, shaping the development of the Neapolitan school of painting, and influencing great artists all over Europe. The Caravaggisti: Caravaggio’s followers and imitators; in Rome (Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi); in Spain (Rivera, Velázquez, Zurbarán); in Holland (Van Honthorst, Rembrandt and Vermeer); and in France (Georges de la Tour). Realism, naturalism and the camera obscura. Impact and resonance. A taste for Caravaggio. Why are there so few Caravaggio’s in American collections? Impact on film.


November 24
Class review and optional exam (not graded).



Caravaggio: the Artist,

his Times and his Legacy


COST: $395 or €325 per person 

($180 discounted fee to additional household members)

WHEN: Wednesdays starting on October 6th at
7:00 pm - 8:30 pm in Florence (1:00-2.30 pm in New York, 12:00 to 1:30 pm in Chicago, 11:00 am to 12:30 pm in Denver and 10:00 to 11:30 am in Los Angeles). If you miss a class, it will be recorded and available for viewing at your convenience.

Should you wish to pay with Zelle, please click the button below and enter the $395 registration fee, using my email