You may not know that Rome hosts one of the most beautiful series of paintings by this great painter; the itinerary you can follow on this MAP will take you to discover the 10 different sites where you can admire all 22 works of Caravaggio in Rome!
But before leaving with the treasure hunt, I want to tell you in summary what a special character he was, because this will help you understanding and interpreting the masterpieces you will see.
Caravaggio’s adventurous life
The painter’s true name was Michelangelo Merisi, but he was nicknamed “Caravaggio” because his father, an architect, was born in a small village of Lombardy called Caravaggio (if you want to see where the village is, look HERE).
Born in Milan in 1571, he lost most of his family due to the plague when he was 6 years old. But already at 13 he began to study painting in the workshop of a pupil of the famous Venetian painter Titian.
When he was 21 Caravaggio moved first to Venice and then to Rome, at that time governed by the Pope and considered to be the capital of art, where he mastered in the workshops of various painters producing works appreciated and purchased by the best Roman nobility and the clergy.
Some sources report that the real reason for his transfer from Milan was a murder charge: his character was in fact extremely rebellious, quarrelsome and unconventional: he frequented taverns and prostitutes, he was a big drinker and gambler, a true rebel.
In 1605, due to various reports filed against him, Caravaggio was brought to court, where he injured an official; however, he managed to escape to Genoa and then return to Rome, where in 1606 during a quarrel for gambling reasons he killed a man and was sentenced to death. He had to flee again, first to Naples and then to Malta where he started painting for the Order of the Knights of St. John.
When the Knights learned of Caravaggio’s criminal record they tried to prosecute him, but by injuring one in a fight he managed to escape again by taking refuge in Sicily and then in Naples, where in 1609 he was seriously injured and disfigured by hired killers paid by the Knights of Malta, who kept looking for him.
In the meantime, his Roman protectors had promised to get him the grace from the death sentence in exchange for three canvases; Caravaggio, still weak, sick and feverish, embarked for Rome with the canvases. He was landed 40km from the city, but the canvases remained on the boat that continued its voyage heading to Porto Ercole, in Tuscany.
Not being able to return to Rome as a free man without the canvases, in order to recover them Caravaggio had to embark again for Porto Ercole, where on 18 July 1610, exhausted by the septicaemia, he died without having found them, at only 38 years of age.
Caravaggio never knew that the Pope in the meantime had already granted him the pardon.
Influences of life on Caravaggio’s works
The absence of a family education, the frequent attendance of the taverns and their sketchy patrons; romantic relationships with prostitutes and boys; the nights spent drunk in the slums of the many visited cities; his quarrelsome and violent nature; the continuous escapes and his fear of death: all this was strongly combined with his incredible artistic talent. Such merger created works of exceptional, unique and dramatic realism.
The portrayed models are taken from the street, their faces are not beautiful or idealized, but typical of the environment that Caravaggio frequented; their expressions have nothing of the religious mysticism typical of classical iconography; their bodies are true, imperfect, made of flesh and bones.
But the most innovative feature introduced by Caravaggio is light: strong, grazing and warm, it generates contrasts never seen before, it highlights only the chosen details that come out of the dark background with their colours as if they were three-dimensional. For the originality that he introduced in the use of light, I am convinced that Caravaggio can be called the first Director of Photography in history.
I hope that the hunt for these authentic treasures will fascinate you as much as it fascinated me!
All works of Caravaggio in Rome