Caravaggio was a son of a bitch. He killed people. He drank and brawled and painted and died. We love him for that, for being the difficult genius, for giving us stories. It’s 400 years since he died and the Caravaggio buzz is up to fever pitch. Everybody wants to talk about Caravaggio.

There is no denying that Caravaggio was every bit as bold a painter as he was a fighter. When you look at a Caravaggio — say, a famous one like “Boy Bitten by a Lizard” (c. 1594) — you feel the impact. The painting shows, undeniably, a boy in the immediate aftermath of have been bitten by a lizard. His face is lit up, his shoulder heaves in upward contortion. The immediacy of the painting — the light, the action, the gestures — makes one feel as if the history of previous painting is being blasted apart…. More…