truer, more tangible, more natural


On July 18 1610, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, feverish, bedraggled, frightful to behold with knife wounds to his face, died alone in Porto Ercole. He was 38 years old and was buried in an unmarked grave. Wanted for murder, he had been trying to reach Rome from exile in Naples, but was thrown into jail en route and had lost track of the paintings which he hoped might secure a papal pardon. The most notable of these was his gory “David with the Head of Goliath”, full of dread, in which he depicted himself as the decapitated Philistine. The paintings survived and their intense naturalism and dynamic effects of light and shade influenced generations, but Caravaggio as a personality dropped from historical view. No letter, drawing, or document penned by him remains; the sole records in which he appears are those kept by police, along with scant references by contemporaries confirming him as a brilliant troublemaker. “There is also a Michelangelo da Caravaggio who is doing extraordinary things in Rome,” the Dutch painter-poet Karel van Mander noted in 1603. “He does not devote himself continually to study, but after a fortnight’s work will swagger about a month or two with a sword at his side and a servant following him … ever ready to engage in a fight or an argument, so that it is most awkward to get along with him. Despite this, his painting is beyond dispute.” This fourth centenary of Caravaggio’s death is the first to be celebrated.

more from Jackie Wullschlager at the FT here. My own little reflection on Caravaggio here.