Experts divided over how brilliant artist met his end
|Ottavio Leoni's portrait of Caravaggio|
Official records at the time concluded that the artist died in the Tuscan coastal town of Porto Ercole, having contracted a fever, thought to have been malaria.
However, there is no record of a funeral having taken place, nor of a burial, and several alternative theories have been put forward as to what happened to him.
One, which came to light in 2010 on the 400th anniversary of the painter's death, is that Caravaggio's death was caused by lead poisoning, the supposition being that lead contained in the paint he used entered his body either through being accidentally ingested or by coming into contact with an open wound.
This was supported by research led by Silvano Vincenti, a prominent art historian and broadcaster, who claimed to have found evidence that Caravaggio had been buried at a cemetery in Porto Ercole that was built over in the 1950s.
Some remains were transferred to the municipal cemetery in Porto Ercole and among nine potential sets one was identified through DNA testing as having a 50-60 per cent chance of being Caravaggio. The bones contained toxic levels of lead, enough at least to have sent him mad.
Another theory, put forward in 2012 by Vincenzo Pacelli, a professor at the University of Naples, is that the artist, notorious for a quick temper and violent behaviour, was assassinated by the ancient order of the Knights of Malta with the connivance of the Vatican.
Professor Pacelli says documents from the Vatican Secret Archives suggest that the artist was murdered as an act of vengeance, following injuries inflicting by Caravaggio on a member of the order during a brawl in Malta. He already had a death sentence on his head, issued by the Pope, after killing a man in a fight in Rome in 1606.
|Caravaggio's The Crucifixion of St Peter|
Caravaggio was born Michelangelo Merisi or Amerighi in Milan in 1571. It is thought his family moved to the town of Caravaggio, just south of Bergamo, because of an outbreak of plague in Milan soon after his birth. He adopted the name of the town as part of his signature when he began painting, eventually becoming known simply as Caravaggio.
He returned to Milan to train under Simone Peterzano who had himself trained under Titian. He went on to work in Rome, Naples, Malta and Sicily, where he was in demand to produce paintings for the many new churches and palaces that were being built.
His work became famous for his realistic observation of the physical and emotional state of human beings and for his dramatic use of light and shade, known as chiaroscuro, which gave his paintings a three-dimensional quality. This was a formative influence for the baroque school of painting.
Some of his major works, such as The Calling of St Matthew, The Crucifixion of St Peter and Deposition, can be found in churches in Rome, but his work is also well represented in the Uffizi gallery in Florence.
|Caravaggio's David with the Head of Goliath|
features Caravaggio's own face on the head
In addition to its connection with the artist, the town of Caravaggio is well worth visiting to see the Sanctuary of the Madonna di Caravaggio, which was built in the 16th century on the spot where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to a local peasant woman. The Sanctuary was later rebuilt and completed in the 18th century and is now a grand building visited by pilgrims from all over the world.
Porto Ercole is one of two small, picturesque towns on Monte Argentario, a unusual peninsula connected to the mainland by three narrow strips of land, situated on part of the Tuscan coastline known as the Maremma. It is known for its chic restaurants and bustling nightlife.
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