Michelangelo Merisi, better known as Caravaggio, was surely one of the most talented painters of his generation. All his works are gifted with extreme realism and expressivity that make the observer feel part of the scene. All these masterpieces, however, are not only executed by a talented hand but, they are also the product of an anguished mind that ran away from its demons all his life. Let’s then take a look into Caravaggio’s darkest secrets.
How Caravaggio Became So Infamous
Caravaggio’s Escape from Prison
On May 28th 1606, Caravaggio started a pallacorda game with a man named Ranuccio Tommasoni. After a night of playing this game and drinking, the two men started a fight that led to a very unhappy ending. The artist got hurt and managed to kill Tommasoni with his sword. Immediately after, Caravaggio was sentenced to death and he began the escape that lasted all his life.
After this episode, Caravaggio produced several paintings, all fulfilled with a sense of anxiety and darkness. Among all these, however, the Martyrdom of Saint Matthew remains the one that expresses this sense of guilt the most, in which Caravaggio portrayed himself as old and tired.
Caravaggio and Tommasoni’s Background
Caravaggio and Tommasoni had a long history of fights and problems throughout the years. What some sources used to say is that Tommasoni and his brothers were what we might call today a real “gang” that was involved in shady businesses in the Campo Marzio neighborhood where even Caravaggio used to live. Apparently, nobody, except for the artist, dared to start a fight with them.
The painter, in fact, used to play cards with Tommasoni constantly and fight with him after any game. Among many other reasons, some ancient source used to address a woman named Lena as the main seed of their discord. Apparently, Lena was a prostitute in the neighborhood loved by both Caravaggio and Tommasoni.
Popular Tours from Rome
Unforgettable Rome Day Trip to Pompeii and Sorrento
This is the best way to see Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast from Rome. You’ll take private transportation with our guide down to Pompeii where an archeologist will tour our small group through the ruins. Then we’ll head over to Sorrento which is the tip of the Amalfi Coast before returning to Rome. Tickets, transportation, and guides are included in the price.
See prices and more info
Rome in a Day Tour with Vatican, Sistine Chapel, Colosseum, and More!
Looking to get much of your sightseeing done in one day? This tour enters the Vatican an hour before opening and visits the Colosseum along with other sites like the Pantheon, Spanish Steps, and Trevi Fountain. All admissions and transportation are included as well as a licensed English-speaking guide!
See prices and more info
Caravaggio’s Escape from Prison
After the murder and his sentence to death, Caravaggio decided to leave Rome immediately. Thanks to several important connections, he managed to hide in different cities throughout his life. The first help came from the prince Filippo Colonna who hid the artist inside some family mansions. The prince also asked some family members to testify Caravaggio’s presence in other Italian cities, leading the police to lose track of the painter. In order to thank Filippo Colonna, Caravaggio painted works such as the Emmaus Dinner, now at the Brera Museum.
After Rome, Caravaggio moved to Naples and Palermo, where he managed to change his name to hide from the police.
Caravaggio’s Long List of Fights
Caravaggio’s stormy personality was well-known in Rome, even before the Tommasoni’s murder. In 1600 for example, the artist beat up Girolamo Stampa from Montepulciano, an aristocratic guest hosted by Del Monte Cardinal. In 1601, after one year spent in jail, Caravaggio painted some masterpieces such as Amor Vincit Omnia, a painting which its still today considered a manifesto of freedom and victory above injustice.
Caravaggio kept arguing and fighting all around the city and quickly became a regular in the ancient Tor di Nona prison in Rome. Caravaggio had to face several trials, but he was able to escape prison only due to his connections in the city. In 1605, Caravaggio seriously hurt a notary and escaped to Genoa for a few weeks.
Caravaggio and Women
All the women portrayed by Caravaggio as the Virgin Mary or some saint are usually prostitutes that the artist used to meet at night. Among all the women, Caravaggio’s name is particularly linked with Fillide Melandroni and Maddalena (Lena) Antonietti. Fillide came to Rome from Siena, trying to escape a very small village. She was one of Caravaggio’s first encounters in the city and he quickly became a regular client.
Maddalena Antonietti, however, was born and raised in this type of space. As soon as the artist met the woman, he desperately fell in love with her. For a short period, they became capable of having a stable relationship and Lena even left her job to become Caravaggio’s muse. After Tommasoni’s murder, though, Caravaggio left Rome and never saw Lena again.
Despite his tormented history, Caravaggio was always able to use his darkest demons and secrets to produce the best paintings from the 15th century. Today, Rome is one of the cities that still hosts the largest amount of works from this amazing and true artist that faced death throughout all his life.
Top Colosseum Tours
Colosseum Underground Tour with Roman Forum and Palatine Hill
This is our most popular Colosseum tour due to the incredible access to non-public areas like the underground chambers. All admissions are included and it is lead by an English speaking licensed guided and Colosseum expert.
Special Access Colosseum Arena Floor Tour Through the Gladiator’s Gate
You’ll enter the Colosseum through the back door entrance avoiding lines and crowds, which is ideal! You’ll step through the gladiator’s gate and your English-speaking Colosseum guide will bring the stories to life. Next, on to the Roman Forum. All admissions are included.
Hey, we sell tours too!
We provide information for free, but we also sell tours for reasonable prices. Before you continue on to reading about the promiscuous and vivacious life of Caravaggio, we want you to know that we would be pleased to show you Caravaggio’s incredible works on one of our Vatican tours. See which tour is best for you and let us take you on an adventure.
I Want More Italy!
- Check out our YouTube video and step-by-step guide about how to visit the Vatican. If you’d rather let us guide you, check out our Vatican tours.
- Not sure where to stay in Rome? Read this guide!
- Follow our adventures in Italy on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. Then, comment and tell us what you want us to cover next.
Leave a Comment