The BBC‘s David Willey reveals that Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571 – 1610) was more rock ‘n roll than any modern-day artist:
Four hundred years after his death, Caravaggio is a 21st Century superstar among old master painters. His stark, dramatically lit, super-realistic paintings strike a modern chord – but his police record is more shocking than any modern bad boy rock star’s.
An exhibition of documents at Rome’s State Archives throws vivid light on his tumultuous life here at the end of the 16th and the beginning of the 17th centuries.
Caravaggio’s friendships, daily life and frequent brawls – including the one which brought him a death sentence from Pope Paul V – are described in handwritten police logs, legal and court parchments all bound together in heavy tomes – and carefully preserved in this unique repository of Rome’s history during the Renaissance and after.
The picture the documents paint is that of an irascible man who went about town carrying personal weapons – a sword and dagger, and even a pistol – without a written permit, boasting that he enjoyed the protection of the ecclesiastical authorities who commissioned some of his most famous works.
He had frequent brushes with the police, got into trouble for throwing a plate of cooked artichokes in the face of a waiter in a tavern, and made a hole in the ceiling of his rented studio, so that his huge paintings would fit inside. His landlady sued, so he and a friend pelted her window with stones.
Tennis court battle
All these events are documented with eyewitness accounts in this collection of yellowing parchments – difficult to decipher for the non-specialist, but rich in contemporary detail for a skilled archivist.
The documents provide a completely new account of his most serious brawl in May 1606 in which he killed a certain Ranuccio Tommassoni. This brawl – just like a modern-day clash between warring gangs – was arranged in advance by eight participants who have all now been named…
[continues at BBC News]
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