On this day in 1610, Italian Baroque master Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio died in Porto Ercole at the age of 38.
A highly original and influential artist, Caravaggio is one of the best known and most loved of the Italian Baroque painters. His name derives from his birthplace near Milan, but he spent the majority of his life in central and southern Italy. Upon his arrival in Rome at about age 17, Caravaggio began his career in the studio of Cavaliere d’Arpino painting copies, still lifes, and secular works. His naturalism caught the attention of high-ranking ecclesiastical patrons and led to important commissions including the Contarelli chapel in S. Luigi dei Francesi and the Cerasi chapel in Sta Maria del Popolo, after which he concentrated on large-scale religious paintings. Equally famous for his turbulent and scandalous private life, Caravaggio fled Rome after killing an adversary in a brawl over a bet. He was able to continue his career in Naples, Sicily, and Malta. Though he had no students, numerous European artists from Spain to Holland, known collectively as the ‘Caravaggisti,’ emulated his dramatic use of lights and darks known as tenebrism.
Long reputed to have died from fever resulting from his wild lifestyle, recent research suggests lead paint may have been the culprit. Caravaggio will receive a new tomb today in a memorial park in Porto Ercole. His remains were discovered in 2010 in a local church by Silvano Vicenti, president of the Caravaggio Foundation, working with a group of experts to locate his precise burial place.
St Jerome, c. 1606, oil on canvas, Galleria Borghese, Rome
Posthumous Portrait of Caravaggio by Ottavio Leoni ca. 1621
The Calling of Saint Matthew, 1599-1600, oil on canvas, Contarelli Chapel, San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome