Artist Caravaggio
Year 1597-1599
Medium Oil on canvas
Location Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Rome
Dimensions 43 in × 36 in
110 cm × 92 cm
Famous Paintings by Caravaggio
David with the Head of Goliath
Conversion of St. Paul
Ecce Homo
Judith Beheading Holofernes
Supper At Emmaus
Sacrifice of Isaac
Complete Works

Caravaggio, the Italian Baroque master artist, created the painting Narcissus between the 1597 and 1599. It is one of two known paintings by Caravaggio with Classical mythological themes. This painting portrays the story of Narcissus, a handsome young boy, as told by Ovid, the poet. The story comes from Greco-Roman mythology and tells of the young boy falling in love with his own reflection.


In this painting, Narcissus, who is surrounded by a dark and void background is fixated on his own reflection in a pool of water on the ground. Caravaggio’s earlier works almost always used a setting of a neutral and undefined space, as this depicts. Narcissus creates the boundary with his arm placement and appears to be locked in, forming a circle, possibly representing the dark and endless cycle of self-love. Caravaggio’s use of chiaroscuro, or contrasting, creates the illusion of three-dimensional forms. The water looks as if the viewer could fall in, with depth created by the use of shading and contrast. A dark and solemn mood is portrayed, but also an eerie beauty, which is characteristic of Caravaggio’s works.

The Mystery

It has been questioned by art scholars, whether the painting Narcissus was truly created by Caravaggio. Elements in the painting’s style and iconographic creativity has led to the acceptance that it was indeed one of Caravaggio’s creations. Caravaggio, a young and poor artist, was known to reuse models and costumes repeatedly, in order to save money. The facial features of Narcissus, look very similar to the angel in the painting Rest on the Flight into Egypt.

The composition of the vest that Narcissus is wearing, looks as if it is the same material as Mary’s dress in another of Caravaggio’s paintings, The Penitent Magdalene, as well. Caravaggio was also known to produce paintings with a suspenseful, magical and introspective atmosphere, during the middle of his career as an artist, which is very characteristic of this painting.

Narcissus in an oil on canvas painting, which is 110 x 92 cm in size, and of the Baroque art movement. It is displayed in Rome, Italy, at the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica. It is an astute comparison between Narcissus and artists, in that artists have an inner Narcissus, because when they create art, they are looking to themselves in inspiration and creativity. This painting has a certain mystique about it, and is thought-provoking as well.

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