Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Monday, December 14, 2009


- Conversion on the Way to Damascus ... featured the saint's horse's haunches far more prominently than the saint himself, prompting this exchange between the artist and an exasperated official of Santa Maria del Popolo: "Why have you put a horse in the middle, and Saint Paul on the ground?" "Because!" "Is the horse God?" "No, but he stands in God's light!" - Wikipedia

Saw this today - DNA tests could solve mystery of Caravaggio's death (h/t to Shelley's Art History Blog). Here's the story from Reuters ....


The mystery surrounding the death of Baroque master Caravaggio may soon be resolved thanks to new DNA tests -- as long as the right body can be found.

What caused the death of the painter in 1610 and the whereabouts of his corpse have always been unclear.

But a team of Italian anthropologists believe that what is left of Caravaggio's body may be hidden among dozens of bodies buried in a crypt in Tuscany, thanks to recent historical clues.

The team -- armed with a CAT scan and kits for carbon dating -- plan to study the painter's exhumed remains to discover how he died.

"If we are lucky enough to find Caravaggio's skull, we will also be able to do a reconstruction of his face, just as we did in 2007 for Dante Alighieri," Silvano Vinceti, head of the National Committee for Cultural Heritage, told Reuters.

The only images of the artist available until now have been self-portraits.

Scholars have put forward many theories about Caravaggio's death. The most popular are that the painter was assassinated for religious reasons or collapsed with malaria on a deserted Tuscan beach.

However, in 2001 an Italian researcher claimed to have found the painter's death certificate, which allegedly proved that he died in hospital.

"This historical document shows Caravaggio did not die alone on the beach but after three days in hospital, which means the body must have been buried in the San Sebastiano cemetery," said Vinceti, referring to a Tuscan town near the city of Grosseto.

But in 1956, bodies buried at the tiny San Sebastiano graveyard were moved to a nearby town, Porto Ercole, and scholars hope that the remains of Caravaggio will be among them.

The team -- from the departments of Anthropology and Cultural Heritage Conservation at the universities of Ravenna and Bologna -- will have to examine the bones of between 30 and 40 people, selecting those that belong to young men who died at the beginning of the 17th century.

"We will check the DNA extracted from the bones and teeth of possible matches against that of the painter's male descendents," Professor Giorgio Gruppioni, who will head the team, told Reuters.

"Sadly Caravaggio died childless," said Gruppioni, "but his siblings had children whose relatives are still living in the northern Italian town that carries his name."

Caravaggio, who pioneered the Baroque painting technique of contrasting light and dark known as chiaroscuro, is famed for his wild life. Legend has it that he was on his way to Rome to seek pardon for killing a man in a brawl when he died.


- The Death of the Virgin .... was rejected by the Carmelites in 1606. Caravaggio's contemporary Giulio Mancini records that it was rejected because Caravaggio had used a well-known prostitute as his model for the Virgin; Giovanni Baglione, another contemporary, tells us it was due to Mary's bare legs —a matter of decorum in either case. Caravaggio scholar John Gash suggests that the problem for the Carmelites may have been theological rather than aesthetic, in that Caravaggio's version fails to assert the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary, the idea that the Mother of God did not die in any ordinary sense but was assumed into Heaven. - Wikipedia

I admire Caravaggio's work - he may have been somewhat disreputable, but he seems to have been honest to a fault with his art, unafraid to follow his muse rather than propriety. To put the news story above in perspective, read the bit from Wikipedia on Caravaggio's Exile and death (1606–1610). Here's some of it .......

"Caravaggio led a tumultuous life. He was notorious for brawling, even in a time and place when such behavior was commonplace, and the transcripts of his police records and trial proceedings fill several pages. On 29 May 1606, he killed, possibly unintentionally, a young man named Ranuccio Tomassoni. Previously his high-placed patrons had protected him from the consequences of his escapades, but this time they could do nothing. Caravaggio, outlawed, fled to Naples. There, outside the jurisdiction of the Roman authorities and protected by the Colonna family, the most famous painter in Rome became the most famous in Naples ......

Despite his success in Naples, after only a few months in the city Caravaggio left for Malta, the headquarters of the Knights of Malta, presumably hoping that the patronage of Alof de Wignacourt, Grand Master of the Knights, could help him secure a pardon for Tomassoni's death. De Wignacourt proved so impressed at having the famous artist as official painter to the Order that he inducted him as a knight ..... Yet by late August 1608 he was arrested and imprisoned ... the result of yet another brawl ... By December he had been expelled from the Order "as a foul and rotten member."

Before the expulsion Caravaggio had escaped to Sicily ..... After only nine months in Sicily Caravaggio returned to Naples. According to his earliest biographer he was being pursued by enemies while in Sicily and felt it safest to place himself under the protection of the Colonnas until he could secure his pardon from the pope (now Paul V) and return to Rome .....

In Naples an attempt was made on his life, by persons unknown. At first it was reported in Rome that the "famous artist" Caravaggio was dead, but then it was learned that he was alive, but seriously disfigured in the face ..... In the summer of 1610 he took a boat northwards to receive the pardon, which seemed imminent thanks to his powerful Roman friends. With him were three last paintings, gifts for Cardinal Scipione. What happened next is the subject of much confusion and conjecture. The bare facts are that on 28 July an anonymous avviso (private newsletter) from Rome to the ducal court of Urbino reported that Caravaggio was dead. Three days later another avviso said that he had died of fever. These were the earliest, brief accounts of his death, which later underwent much elaboration. No body was found ... "

- The Martyrdom of St. Ursula ... Saint Ursula is caught in a moment of highest action and drama, as the arrow fired by the king of the Huns strikes her in the breast - Wikipedia


Blogger Liam said...

Caravaggio is da bomb.

8:12 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Yeah :)

8:56 PM  

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