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Caravaggio’s Issues with Artichokes and a Death Warrant

Michelangelo Merisi Caravaggio, though a gifted artist, is remembered through history as a mad, violent and dangerous man.  Rome in the late 16 and early 17th century was a rather violent place full of rivalry, arguments and hostility.  The state of the church was in crisis and was desperate for art which found thousands of artists coming to the city.  Caravaggio, sensitive to verbal putdowns experienced a number of encounters with the authorities.  Two of these violent experiences stand out.

The Artichokes

At the Del Moro restaurant in Rome a waiter served Caravaggio a plate of artichokes.  He had requested that some of the artichokes be cooked in oil and some in butter so when he sees the artichokes in butter he asks which are in oil.  The waiter says that he need just smell them to determine which are in oil and which are in butter.  Caravaggio throws the plate at the waiter cutting his face and sending him to the hospital.  The waiter later complained to a judge and sued Caravaggio.  The records of the trial are now in the Roman archives.  Caravaggio’s relationships with powerful friends in high places, allowed him to get off from the charges.

The Death Warrant

On May 29, 1606, Caravaggio met with Ranuccio Tomassoni to settle a dispute over a tennis wager or perhaps an issue over a courtesan.  Whatever the problem, the two men fought, Tomassoni bled to death, and Caravaggio became a wanted murderer.  Pope Paul V Borghese, condemned Caravaggio an outlaw and issued a death warrant for him.  This time Caravaggio’s powerful friends could not help.  He fled Rome spending the final 4 years of his life constantly looking over his shoulder.

David with the Head of Goliath

David with the Head of Goliath

It is suspected by many that in a bid to win a pardon, Caravaggio painted David with the Head of Goliath for the pope’s art collecting nephew, Cardinal Scipione Borghese.  The Cardinal, a patron of the artist, had the power to grant Caravaggio a pardon.  Unfortunately Caravaggio never actually received a pardon or lived as a free man again.  It is believed that he died on July 18, 1610 at the age of 38, in Porto Ercole near Grosseto, Tuscany.

 

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