Artibus et Historiae no. 40 (XX)

1999, ISSN 0391-9064

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MAURIZIO MARINI - The Beginning and End of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Painter: Some Documentary Clarifications on His Birth and Death

The end of a century is a very appropriate moment to revise previous contributions examining the life and work of Michelangelo da Caravaggio (1571—1610). The artist's birthplace, that had become his surname and by which he is generally known, has been put to doubt, after the exact dates of his birth (first thought to be 1569, then 1573) and his death (previously indicated as 1609 and even 1612) had been dis­covered. After a tentative attempt at considering him to be born in Milan, the re-reading of a document
conferring on the artist the knighthood of the Knights of Malta (14 July 1608) confirmed that "...Michael Angelus Carraca, oppido vulgo de Caravaggio in Longobardis natus, hanc urbem appellens...". The noble 'status' of the painter is also attested by a formula added in the 'mens' of "Receptio in fr[atr]em Militem obedientia pro Mag[nifi]co Michaeli Angelo de Caravaggio", as well as by heraldic research on the Caravaggio family.

Literary tradition and even more, the heraldic one, testify to non-plebeian origins of the artist, who in a duel on 29 May 1606 killed Ranuccio Tomassoni, and himself was seriously wounded. Caravaggio's escape to the domains of the Colonna family (he was protected by Costanza Colonna Sforza, the marquess of Caravaggio) - then through Naples, Malta, to Sicily, and again to Naples - had its tragic final in Porto Ercole. Certainly, not on a beach - as it was sometimes repeated until now, after reluctant fictitious biographical relations by Baglione and Bellori and by art critics (the latter especially on an attributional level).

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