"In Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."

This famous quote from the 1949 movie "The Third Man" emphasizes the connection between creativity and violence, or between the wildness of the spirit and artistic output. Few artists epitomize this synergy better than the Italian painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, now the subject of "Caravaggio and His Time: Friends, Rivals and Enemies" at The National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo.

Not only was Caravaggio one of the most influential painters of the Baroque period, with a technique that combined intense realism with dramatic lighting, but he was also, by all accounts, something of a hooligan. Once, he had to flee Rome with a price on his head, after killing a young man in a brawl.