Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio was a controversial renaissance artist during the 17th Century, whilst his artwork propelled him to fame for paintings of biblical scenes and he was the head of the Baroque style of painting, he’s also remembered for his rebellious lifestyle. Caravaggio held an extensive police record where he was accused of assault and murder with violent tendencies and a short temper. He was even believed to have associated with the devil entering into deals with him for fame and riches.
Originally from Milan, he was forced to flee in the early 1600s following a fight in which he killed his opponent, and so he left to travel the rest of Europe where he was yet to hold such great enemies. Caravaggio battled with his own dark nature, and paranoia as he escaped from Italy, leading to him continuing his lifestyle of fighting and conflict wherever he went. In 1608 he ventured to Malta where the Knights welcomed him and ordained him as a Knight of St John also, here would be his eventual resting place.
Whilst in Malta. Caravaggio was commissioned to create his piece “The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist” depicted in oils. The work showed the execution of John the Baptist, taking influence from the prisons used by the Knights of Malta. This large alterpiece is the biggest of Caravaggio’s work, allowing the figures to be nearly lifesize and it can still be seen today in St. John’s Co-Cathedral. Interestingly, it is the only piece of his work to be signed by the artist himself if you look closely to the red pool of blood at the neck of John the Baptist.
Controversy surrounds this signature as it’s questioned if before his name there is an f to mark his commitment to brotherhood of the Knights, or if it reads I, Caravaggio, did this as a confession of his previous murder in Italy. Soon after the work was finished the Grand Master of the Knights expelled Caravaggio from the brotherhood, rumoured to be for his violent, erratic behaviour and Caravaggio escaped from their prison for him in Malta and spent a year in Rome and Naples.
In 1610 Caravaggio was dead. The circumstances surrounding his death are still unknown today, with rumours and conspiracy theories ranging from lead poisoning to murder. Some suspect that the Knights of Malta were responsible for Caravaggio’s death, murdering him following his disrespect during times in Malta and then disposed of his body into the sea. Others believe his troubled past of murder in Milan had finally caught up to him with his many enemies uniting to kill him.
This mysterious story surrounding him is one that will always entertain people as they try to discover the truth. Whilst in Malta you can explore where the prison held Caravaggio, see his great works in the Cathedrals and museums and come to your own conclusion about how he died.