An exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art profiles one of the most influential artists of the 16th and 17th centuries — and those he influenced.“Bodies and Shadows: Caravaggio and His Legacy” (closing Feb. 10) offers 56 works, eight of them by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, who died before he was 40, yet left a profound impact on painters all over Europe.Caravaggio (1571-1610) trained as a painter in Milan and in his early twenties went to Rome. It couldn’t have been a better moment for a young painter to arrive in Rome. Under Popes Sixtus V (1585-90), Clement VIII (1592-1605) and Paul V (1605-21), Rome was undergoing an urban transformation. St. Peter’s basilica was being completed and many other new churches and palaces were being constructed. Artists came to Rome from all over Italy and Northern Europe in search of patrons who would pay for the paintings and frescoes needed to adorn the palaces and churches. Caravaggio’s first major project was commissioned by Cardinal del Monte in 1599 for the Contarelli Chapel in San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome. His famous paintings of the “Martyrdom of St. Matthew” and “The Calling of St. Matthew” are there to this day. He went on to great success with both religious and secular paintings. However, his personal life was very troubled. He was prone to brawling and public disturbances and in 1606 he killed Ranuccio Tomassone and was forced to flee first to Malta and then to Naples. In 1610 he was hoping to come back to Rome to receive a Papal pardon but died on the journey back to Rome. But in his brief life, Caravaggio stood current painting styles on their head. Other artists’ paintings had figures in the foreground with a landscape behind and even lighting across the painting. Caravaggio did away with the background and placed his figures in a shallow space with raking light across their figures. He lit his models from the side or overhead in a dark room so that only the figure was visible, as if lit by a spotlight. His sculptural figures loom out of the darkness and almost come into our world. His paintings were full of high key color and his figures were realistic to the extreme sometimes with dirty feet and grimy skin. In fact some of his works were rejected by his patrons as being too realistic. He focuses on the moment of highest emotion in his narrative scenes. Caravaggio leads off the LACMA show but the show really centers on the work of those who were influenced by him both during his lifetime and after. The catalog that accompanies the show divides these artists into four groups:—Those who knew Caravaggio personally; Orazio Gentileschi, Carlo Saraceni, Giovanni Baglione and Orazio Riminaldi. —The followers of Bartolomeo Manfredi, a follower of Caravaggio who had his own distinct group of followers, many of them the French artists in Rome such as Simon Vouet, Valentin de Boulogne and Nicolas Regnier. —A group of Spanish artists who were influenced by Caravaggio: Diego Velasquez, Francisco Zurbaran and Jusepe de Ribera. —And a group of artists from the Netherlands, particularly from the city of Utrecht: Dirck van Baburen, Gerrit van Honthorst and Matthias Stom. The first room sets the tone for the show with three works by Caravaggio, “St. Francis in Ecstasy,” “St. John the Baptist” and “Portrait of Maffeo Barberini.” St. Francis reclines, almost as dead, while an angel cradles his head in his arms. This is the moment just after St. Francis has had a vision of a seraphim who imprints the stigmata, the Holy Wounds of Christ, on St. Francis. The painting is dark and only St. Francis and the angel’s head are illuminated by a light that streams across the canvas from left to right. St. John the Baptist is shown as a young man seated, leaning on a table swathed in red cloth that reaches around him as well. Again the background is obscure and the light outlines and shapes his body. He is portrayed more like a sculpture of an ancient Roman god than a Christian saint. In the Barberini portrait, Caravaggio catches a moment in time as Barberini turns and reaches out to the viewer as if about to speak to him.Other highlights of the show include in the third room a painting by Manfredi of “Christ Crowned with Thorns” where the light falls across Christ’s head and the body of his tormentor. This is one of four paintings in the exhibit that address the subject, one of the favorites of Caravaggio’s followers, along with other narratives of high drama such as the beheading of St. John the Baptist and the Denial of St. Peter (five in the show). In the fourth room, a wall features a wonderful set of three paintings showcasing full-length male bodies: Luca Giordano’s “The Good Samaritan,” Regnier’s “St. Sebastian” and Giordano’s “St. Sebastian.” They show the same interest that Caravaggio had in the human form as it is shaped by light running along the body. This room also has a superb painting by Zurbaran of “St. Serapion” who was taken captive in a war in Algiers in 1240. He is shown in white robes hanging from the ropes that bind him to a tree with luminous detail of the robes and his head. The interesting sixth room detours into paintings with very theatrical settings, including a very unusual painting by Stom of “The Adoration of the Magi.” Mary and Joseph on the left hold the Infant Christ suspended on a white cloth with the Magi and their servants on the right in adoration. Christ literally glows as he is presented as the light of the world. Also in the gallery is Stom’s beautiful “St. Ambrose,” in a moment of quiet reflection in his study. St. Ambrose, who lived in the Fourth Century, is one of the four Latin Doctors of the Church along with St. Augustine, St. Jerome and St. Gregory the Great.The show ends in a rather morbid way with two pictures on facing walls of toothpullers, one by Caravaggio and one by the studio of Theodoor Rombouts. It is interesting to see how Rombouts imitates but changes Caravaggio’s painting. On the middle wall are four wonderful paintings by La Tour, one of which is a haunting picture of “The Magdalen with the Smoking Flame.” She sits holding a skull in her lap next to a table with a candle, which illuminates one side of her face and her torso. The use of light is very much like Caravaggio, yet we have no indication that De La Tour was aware of Caravaggio and he perhaps came to the same use of light on his own. The show is full of powerful works, but it is also intellectually fascinating in seeing how one artist had such an influence on so many others.“Bodies and Shadows: Caravaggio and His Legacy” closes Feb. 10 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. Hours are 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday; 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday; and 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday (closed Wednesday). Admission prices vary. Information: (323) 857-6000 or—January 11, 2013{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0111/lacma/{/gallery}