Monday, June 21, 2010

The Bones of Caravaggio

I recently noticed a little blurb in the newspaper which stated that some of the bones of the immensely talented Baroque artist, Caravaggio have been (more or less) identified. There were only about 4 or 5 bones and in some cases only fragments found, and they are so old and the DNA has deteriorated to such a degree that scientifically they can only be about an 85% certain that they are his. The fact that he had no known children doesn't help either, since there is no direct line to follow. Some were hoping that we would finally know for certain what actually killed him by the 400th anniversary of his death next month, but despite this new find there is still quite a bit of mystery and speculation on the possibilities. He made more than a few enemies along the way, so murder isn't out of the question, however, malaria, infected wounds, heatstroke, and syphilis are also on the list of suspects, and it seems he was also weakened by lead poisoning from the lead in his paints. This is only a guess, but I would say it was probably a combination of some or all them. That's an awful lot of ailments to have in a time when the most respected medical treatments involved perfumed enemas and draining off of large quantities of a patient's blood.

Caravaggio was born in Milan,  his given name was Michelangelo Merisi. A short time later, in an attempt to avoid The Plague which has wreaking havoc in Milan at the time, his family moved to the town where he grew up and was later named after, Caravaggio. After his apprenticeship, he became the stereotypical self-destructive artist. Fights and violent rages fueled by alcohol and quite possibly a bipolar disorder, regularly lent credence to his  personal motto: Nec Spe, Nec Metu, (Without  Hope, Without Fear). He preferred the company of thugs and whores and often used them as models in his religious paintings. While he didn't invent it, he is most famous for pushing the envelope of the chiaroscuro technique, which is the use of bright lights and  and solid darks to create a dramatic effect.  I don't remember where I heard this, but one of the most fascinating things about Caravaggio is that he didn't sketch or draw, he simply started painting. That's akin to building a house without a plan. Below are a few examples of his work, and of course, you can Google his name and find tons more.


The Crucifixion of Saint Peter. 1601

David With the Head of Goliath. 1609-1610.

Judith Beheading Holofernes. 1598-1599.

Death of the Virgin. 1601-1606.

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