The greatest painter of the Italian Baroque, Caravaggio was also a quicktempered, murderous swordsman. Few artists have had a police record like his. When painting, however, he became a mystic. The models for his Virgins and his saints were prostitutes, but his pictures are deeply spiritual.
At the height of his fame, just after painting the Pope's portrait, Caravaggio killed a man in a duel and had to hide for his life in the wild hills outside Rome. Outlawed, he became a Knight of Malta but, for half-killing a fellow knight in another duel, was thrown into a dungeon from which he escaped, leaping over the prison walls with a rope. After fleeing along the coast of Sicily on small boats, pursued by a nameless enemy, he was caught in a Neapolitan brothel by his enemy fs assassins and left for dead, so disfigured by sword cuts that he was unrecognisable. Trying to return to Rome, he was shipwrecked, mistaken for a notorious bandit and arrested, before dying on a Tuscan beach in mysterious circumstances when he was still only thirty-eight. All this time he had been painting furiously, in cellars by lamp light, pictures that are masterpieces. Some must still await rediscovery.
Was Caravaggio a homosexual, whose religious scenes are secretly suffused with homoeroticism? What were the causes of his self-destructive binges and endless brawling? Did the Knights of Malta murder him? Just where did he die and where was he buried? Making use of very recent discoveries in Italy and elsewhere, Desmond Seward answers these questions.
His book is at the same time a gripping adventure story and a study of a moody, violent genius, playing dramatically on the contrast between wonderfully creative art and a vicious private life. It uses both the pictures and contemporary crime reports to peer into Caravaggio fs mind.
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