He killed a rival for a prostitutes affections , instigated drunken brawls constantly, argued with his patrons and fled justice hiding out in Malta, all of this and much more whilst at the same time revolutionizing painting with his treatment of light, high chiaroscuro style. Now, almost as if to emphasize how dramatic Caravaggio‘s short life was, anthropologist researchers say he may have quite literally “died for his art”
anthropologists seeking learn more about the mysterious death of the notorious Italian artist in 1610 say they are “Eighty Five percent sure” they have found some of his skeleton remains, thanks to carbon dating and DNA checks on bones excavated from a churches bone repository in Tuscany.
Caravaggio‘s suspected bones come complete with levels of lead high enough to have driven the painter mad and helped finish him off.
“The lead likely came from his paints – he was known to be extremely messy with them,” said Silvano Vinceti, the researcher who announced the findings today .
“Lead poisoning won’t kill you on its own – we believe he had infected wounds and sunstroke too – but it was one of the causes.”
Art historians already suspect that Goya and Van Gogh may have suffered from the ill effects of the lead in their paints, which can cause depression, pain and personality changes.
Michelangelo Merisi, known as Caravaggio after the Lombardy town where he grew up, was a young man at the height of his career in Rome when he killed a man in a brawl in 1606, fleeing to find new patrons in Naples and then Malta, only to be thrown off the island two years later for more brawling.
“After a fortnight’s work he will swagger about for a month or two with a sword at his side and a servant following him, from one ballcourt to the next, ever ready to engage in a fight or an argument,” wrote one observer.
In between fights he found time to astound his contemporaries with his shocking realism and use of light and shade – chiaroscuro – although he won no favours with religious authorities in Rome when he reportedly used a famous prostitute as a model for the Madonna.
From Malta, Caravaggio moved to Sicily, where his paintings became as dark and shadowy as his worsening moods which prompted him to sleep armed and tear up paintings after any criticism.
Returning to Naples, Caravaggio was the victim of a possible attempt on his life, leaving him with the wounds Vinceti believes became infected and spurring him on to Tuscany were he hoped to obtain a pardon for the Rome murder.
How Caravaggio died there, at 38, has been shrouded in mystery ever since – a blank page that Vinceti and a team of archaeologists and forensic scientists have set out to fill 400 years after his death.
To test existing theories that he died of malaria on a Tuscan beach, was devoured by syphilis, or was murdered by one of his many enemies, the team needed to start by locating Caravaggio’s remains, which had never been found.
Vinceti went into action when a document was unearthed suggesting the painter was buried in the tiny San Sebastiano cemetery in Porto Ercole.
Discovering that the site had been built over in 1956, the team headed for the town’s municipal cemetery to where the bones had been shifted, turning up nine potential sets.
“Set number five turned out to be from a tall man – Caravaggio was described as such – while tests showed he was between 38 and 40 and died around 1610,” said Vinceti.
The team’s next stop was the town of Caravaggio to compare DNA from the bones with local people. No descendents were found but families with the same surname were traced, giving samples which were 50 to 60% compatible with the bones.
Add in the toxic level of lead in the remains and Vinceti is convinced he has his man, adding to his reputation as Italy’s foremost cold case historian, which he won when he dug up the remains of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, a philosopher at the court of the Medicis, to prove he had been poisoned.
Now Vinceti is aiming for Leonardo da Vinci, hoping the custodians of his tomb will let him in to create a facial reconstruction of the Renaissance polymath.
Vinceti’s press conference, at which a purported fragment of Caravaggio’s skull was displayed on a silk red cushion could not have been better timed.
Shunned after his death before coming to be recognized as one of the fathers of modern painting, an exhibition of Caravaggio’s work at the Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome this year celebrating the 400th anniversary of his death attracted 580,000 visitors.
However, British art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon is skeptical that the bones are really those of the famous artist. “In my view, there’s no way in hell they can say they have found Caravaggio’s remains,” he says. “What’s the proof? They found a headstone saying: ‘Here Lies Caravaggio’?” And he claims the death certificate is fake.
Always controversial ,both in life and now of course in death, the mystery and the brilliance of Caravaggio will go on to fascinate art lovers and academics for centuries to come, the only thing that can not be denied in the Caravaggio story is the indelible beauty he has left for us all .Google+