Caravaggio was an Italian Baroque master. Baroque is a period of artistic style that began in Rome and Italy around 1600 and features amplified movement and unambiguous detail to achieve a dramatic and exuberant effect in many art forms.
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio paintings are recognised as combining realistic perception of the physical and emotional human state with dramatic lighting.
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio made the unusual choice of using oils to paint Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto on plaster ceiling. The traditional technique when painting on plaster is fresco, which uses pigment and water on wet plaster. Caravaggio's work is sometimes, incorrectly, regarded as a fresco.
The painting has been considered to be an attempt by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio to discredit claims made by critics that he was unable to achieve perspective in his work.
Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto features three figures, the gods Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto, and demonstrates dramatic foreshortening. Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio appears to have used his own face for the three gods, which contradicts claims that he always painted using live models.
One of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio's earlier works, The Cardsharps (c. 1594), gained immense popularity and attracted the esteem Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte and his patronage. Francesco Maria Del Monte, one of Rome's leading connoisseurs, was Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio's patron cardinal.
Caravaggio produced several works for Francesco Maria Del Monte and his wealthy art-appreciating circle. Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto was one of these works, and was painted on the ceiling of Francesco Maria Del Monte's garden casino at his country estate, later known as the Villa Ludovisi. Other paintings executed by Caravaggio for Del Monte include The Musicians, The Lute Player, Bacchus and Boy Bitten by a Lizard.
Similar themes were addressed by Michelangelo Buonarroti in works such as Creation of the Sun, Moon and Plants.
Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto is a response to Francesco Maria Del Monte's interest in alchemy. The painting is interpreted as an allegory of Paracelsus, which is an alchemical triad. Paracelsus is a combination of sulphur and air, represented in the painting by Jupiter; mercury and water, represented by Neptune; and salt and earth, represented by Pluto.
Each god is featured beside his beast: the eagle with Jupiter, the hippocamp with Neptune, and the three-headed dog Cerberus with Pluto. In the painting, Jupiter is reaching toward the celestial sphere where the Sun moves around the Earth.
The painting continues to be located in the Villa Aurora in Rome, previously the hunting lodge of the former Villa Ludovisi.