What I Learned on my Caravaggio Tour

Some of what I learned about Caravaggio on my tour:

The context of Caravaggio’s work enhances understanding and appreciation of his works.

Caravaggio worked during the Counter Reformation. The Protestant Reformation defines the Counter Reformation.

In 1517, legend has it, Martin Luther nailed a printed folio sheet on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. The document entitled Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences or The Ninety-Five Theses started the Protestant Reformation. His theses criticized the selling of indulgences, certificates that reduced punishment time in purgatory for sins. He also questioned the Roman Catholic church’s ideas about purgatory and questioned the veneration of saints as it had no basis in gospel.


Protestant theology developed to include the belief that the scriptures are the sole source of faith and practice, and only God pardons sinners. It rejected Catholic theology and practices that had no basis in the gospels, including the cult of the Virgin Mary (the Immaculate Conception), rosaries, relics and non-gospel stories such as Judith and Holofernes.

From 1545-1563, the Roman Catholic church met in ecumenical councils (a convention of ecclesiastical dignitaries and theological experts who discuss and settle matters of church doctrine and practice) to counter the Protestant Reformation. Called the Council of Trent, it set the theology and practices that formed the Counter Reformation.

Most importantly for understanding Counter Reformation art, the Council of Trent decreed about religious images “every superstition shall be removed . . . all lasciviousness be avoided; in such wise that figures shall not be painted or adorned with a beauty exciting to lust . . . there be nothing seen that is disorderly, or that is unbecomingly or confusedly arranged, nothing that is profane, nothing indecorous,” images must become “the house of God.” Any unusual images required exemption from a bishop. The Council also stressed the educational purposes of religious images.

St Peter’s in 2010 with Allie

In the year Martin Luther wrote The Ninety-Five Theses, the selling of indulgences had begun in what is now Germany (and elsewhere) in order to fund the rebuilding St. Peter’s Basilica. The idea to rebuild started before the Protestant Reformation but by 1505, Pope Julius II decided to demolish the old church and replace it with a monumental structure. Julius II’s grandiose plans also included his own tomb as part of the new St. Peter’s and for which he employed Michelangelo, the premier artist of the time. Humility was not part of Julius II’s personality. He also berated, if not physically beat, Michelangelo to finish painting the Sistine Chapel.

what the Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel looked like before someone painted loincloths on all the bare butts and genitalia

Church building, not just St. Peter’s, proliferated throughout the Counter Reformation period. The building style, Baroque, directly linked the Counter Reformation and the Catholic Church. Baroque architecture and its embellishments sought to access the emotions and make a visible statement of the wealth and power of the Church.

Santa Maria del Popolo

Caravaggio arrived in Rome around 1592 or 1593 during the papacy of Pope Clement VIII (pope from 1592-1605). Clement VIII was from the Aldobrandini family (more about them later).

All the new churches needed decoration, so opportunities abounded for artists. But private commissions also provided work for artists.

former homes of Caravaggio patrons the Del Monte and Giustini families

Roman society in this period consisted of many rich and very, very rich families and many more poor people. The very rich often became patrons of artists. Not only buying their artistic endeavours, but also making them part of their household. Many others bought paintings for their personal enjoyment.

Caravaggio initially painted for this private market. He worked for a short time in the studio of Cavalier d’Arpino, the most in demand artist by the 1590s; purportedly Caravaggio was doing the still life portions in paintings. The earliest works he painted entirely on his own include:


Boy Peeling a Fruit c. 1593 London, England Hampton Court Palace -Royal Collection. I saw this as part of the Beyond Caravaggio exhibition at the National Gallery in London.


  1. Young Sick Bacchus 1593/4 Rome Galleria Borgheseart-hd-1
  2. Boy with a Basket of Fruit 1593/4 Rome Galleria Borghese

As noted in my earlier November 4 blog, these two works are innovative in taking classical themes but updating them using recognizably contemporary young Roman men, like Shakespeare plays done in contemporary settings.

They also show a gritty naturalism. The Bacchus has dirt under his fingernails. Dirty nails and dirty feet are frequently seen in Caravaggio’s ordinary people, even the religious paintings. Caravaggio already rejects idealization in these early works. These paintings have been interpreted as promoting the virtual reality of painting as superior to real life.


  1. Fortune Teller 1594 Rome Capitoline Museums

This work uses a Roman street scene and shows a Gypsy or Roma woman, a subject not shown before. For the first time in painting, it shows the immigrants common in Rome.


  1. Penitent Magdalene (Mary Magdalene) c. 1597 Rome Doria Pamphilj Gallery
  2. Rest on the Flight into Egypt 1597 Rome Doria Pamphilj Gallery
  3. St. John the Baptist 1957 Rome Doria Pamphilj Gallery

The above three works are in the Doria Pamphilj Gallery, still the home of the Doria Pamphilj family, who became extremely wealthy through marriages among the Aldobrandini (the family of Clement VIII), the Pamphilj (family of Pope Innocent VIII (1484–1492)) and the Doria family who had Doges of Genoa among its members.

Outside Palazzo Doria Pamphilj with Robin


Very naturalistic elements feature in these paintings. The damask or damasco fabic design of Mary’s dress must have been owned by Caravaggio as the same pattern is seen in the Fortune Teller. The music being played by the angel in Flight into Egypt is an actual tune by a Flemish composer. The vegetation in the Flight into Egypt is also identifiable.

We start to see more prominent empty background in the Magdalene and stronger chiaroscuro in it and the St. John. The subject matter is pulled tightly to the foreground making it more dramatic and emotional.

photo-17. Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto 1597 Rome, Casino dell’Aurora, Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi

This is the only ceiling painting done by Caravaggio. It is in oil paint, not fresco. Caravaggio had been criticized as not doing perspective well. This seems to be a response to that criticism. It also shows that Caravaggio now had rich patrons coming to him and commissioning private work. This was done for Francesco del Monte, a cardinal and art connoisseur. Del Monte was also a patron of Galileo. For awhile, about when he was painting these works, Caravaggio moved into the del Monte household.

Ludovisi family casino

The building containing the ceiling painting is called a Casino, ‘casa’ being Italian for house, ‘casino’ for little house. It is near the grounds of the Villa Borghese, which was then outside of Rome. The Casino was used as a hunting lodge and never intended as a place to sleep (despite looking like a mansion to us). The main house, palace or palazzo, not too far away by car, no longer functions as a private residence, and was once the American embassy.

dsc001988. Judith Beheading Holofernes 1598 Rome, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica—Palazzo Barberini

dsc001969. Narcissus 1599 Rome Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica—Palazzo Barberini

These are in Palazzo Barberini, built after Caravaggio’s death, by Maffeo Barberini, who became Pope Urban VIII (pope from 1623-1644) and was a great patron of Gianlorenzo Bernini and Francesco Borromini. As mentioned before, Italian for nephew is ‘nepoto’ from which we get the English word ‘nepotism’, defined as ‘the unfair practice by a powerful person of giving jobs and other favours to relatives’. A contemporary said of Urban VIII that “upon his elevation, his kindred flew from [their home in] Florence to Rome like so many bees [which are the Barberini’s arms], to suck the honey of the Church, which they did excessively.” He elevated his brother and three nephews, one of whom was 15 years old. The palazzo, or palace, is now owned by the Italian state and forms part of their national art history museums.

Palazzo Barberini

Back to Caravaggio, in these paintings, the chiaroscuro, dramatic use of dark and light, becomes quite apparent. The Judith shows violence, something that increasingly appears in Caravaggio’s work.

The story of Judith, according to Protestants, was not part of the Bible and now is considered a parable. Judith, a daring and beautiful Jewish widow, was upset with her countrymen for not trusting God to deliver them from their foreign conquerors. She goes with her loyal maid to the camp of the enemy Assyrian general, Holofernes, with whom she ingratiates herself. She gains access to his tent one night (letting him think he will seduce her), and decapitates him. The Assyrians, having lost their leader, disperse, and Judith saves Israel.

Cristofano Allori’s version of Judith and Holofernes 1613

The Judith story, for Catholics, personified the Church and many virtues–humility, justice, fortitude, chastity (the opposite of Holofernes’ vices–pride, tyranny, decadence, lust)–and she was, like the other heroic women of the Hebrew scriptural tradition, made into a typological prefiguration of the Virgin Mary. In addition to being a subject disavowed by Protestants, its drama and extreme emotion made it a popular subject during the Counter Reformation.

The Narcissus has a more secular interpretation about the seductive power of the image or that virtual reality can be more powerful than reality. Note the pattern on Narcissus’ sleeve looks like Mary Magdalene’s dress and the cape in the Fortune Teller.


The model for the Judith (and other Caravaggio paintings) is thought to be Fellide Melandroni, a prostitute. The painting originally had Judith bare breasted. She is now flimsily covered, whether by Caravaggio or a later painter is unknown.

Andrew Graham-Dixon in his book, Caravaggio: a Life Sacred and Profane, argues that Caravaggio and Ranuccio Tomassoni, a pimp and all around criminal thug, fought over her. He further argues that Caravaggio, in defending Fellide, attempted to cut Tomassoni’s testicles, as honour then required, but instead or because Tomassoni moved, cut his femoral artery resulting in his bleeding to death. So Graham-Dixon defends Caravaggio as not a murderer; the killing was accidental when trying to follow Italian honour traditions.

On a more aesthetic note, in the Judith we start to note the dramatic use of red, in particular, cinnabar red.


10. Calling of Saint Matthew 1600 Rome, Contarelli Chapel, San Luigi dei Francesi

11. Martyrdom of Saint Matthew 1600 Rome, Contarelli Chapel

12.Crucifixion of Saint Peter 1601 Rome, Cerasi Chapel, Santa Maria del Popolodsc0009613. Conversion of Saint Paul on the Road to Damascus 1601  Rome, Cerasi Chapel

I discussed the significance and importance of Caravaggio’s first public religious commission, the Calling of St Matthew, in my October 31 blog. It made Caravaggio the most famous painter in Rome and his production of works exploded. Between 1600, with the installation of the first Matthew painting and 1606, when Caravaggio fled Rome, he produced over 30 works. About half are still in Rome, while significant works like Death of the Virgin, Taking of Christ, two Supper at Emmaus, Amor Victorious, Crowning with Thorns and Incredulity of St. Thomas now reside elsewhere in Europe.


The Taking of Christ, which features in the National Gallery Beyond Caravaggio exhibition advertising, normally resides in Dublin, Ireland but I was able to see it in London. It was painted in 1602.


Notice the violence in the Martyrdom of St Matthew. One suggestion for the unusual level of violence in Caravaggio’s work rests with his violent lifestyle, which was typical of the times, and he painted what was happening in the Rome of his time. He proudly walked around Rome wearing a sword. He offended easily and fought frequently. He disparaged other artists. His milieu sounded not unlike current American gangsta rap star rivalries. Mafia-like or organized criminal gangs controlled various areas of Rome. Caravaggio lived for a while in the Campo Marzo area, now full of upscale fashion shops.


The Tomassoni family gang operated in Campo Marzo as pimps and petty criminals and as Graham-Dixon suggests, generally threw their weight around. Caravaggio likely had run ins with these gangster-types since he did not seem to be someone who would tolerate being bullied.

Tomassonis lived in the building with the pharmacy

Paintings from 1600-1606 that we saw during the Rome portion of the tour:

dsc0012214. Inspiration of Saint Matthew 1602 Rome, Contarelli Chapel

dsc0021815. [missing] John the Baptist 1602 Rome, Capitoline Museums

john16. John the Baptist 1602 Rome, Doria Pamphilj Gallery

The John the Baptist in the Capitoline Museums is generally considered the original. Documentation shows that Caravaggio was asked by other patrons to paint the same for them. The Doria Pamphilj is believed to be a copy by Caravaggio.

John the Baptist forms a favourite subject for Caravaggio. Whether it was due its popularity as a subject for commissions or a personal favourite, who knows? St. Jerome also appears as a repeated subject. Both were hermits at some point in their lives. One can speculate that Caravaggio, a loner, may have identified with them.

dsc0014517. [missing] Entombment or Deposition c. 1603 Vatican City Vatican Museums

dsc0012818. Madonna of Loreto 1604 Rome, Cappella Cavalletti, Sant’Agostino

The Madonna of Loreto is part of the Counter Reformation promotion of the cult of the Virgin Mary. It refers to the miracle of the Holy House of Loreto, Mary’s house that miraculously flew from the Holy Land to Loreto in Italy. It is a place of pilgrimage and Caravaggio shows two pilgrims, again, common poor Romans, and Mary, also, could be an ordinary barefooted Roman woman. After it was revealed, the painting became popular among common people, but critics complained it failed to follow the rules of the Council of Trent because it was not beautiful or it was indecorous.


John the Baptist (in the Wilderness) [1604  Kansas City, Missouri  Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art]  This was not in Rome but part of the Beyond Caravaggio exhibition in London.

dsc0016319. Saint Jerome (Writing) 1605 Rome, Borghese

Madonna dei Palafrenieri and David with Head of Goliath

20. Madonna and Child with St. Anne (Madonna dei Palafrenieri) 1606 Rome, Borghese

The St Jerome and Madonna dei Palafrenieri hang in the Galleria Borghese along with four other Caravaggios. The building is another casino, intended as an escape from the city, and still retains its huge park-like grounds. This was built by Scipione Borghese, a cardinal and avid art collector. But when his uncle became pope (Paul V 1605-1621), Scipione’s collecting became manic. He was made camerlengo by his uncle. If you read the book or saw the movie ‘Angels and Demons’, you heard the term. It means chamberlain in Italian and in Caravaggio’s time, basically meant the CEO of the papal estates. It was not a religious position. Most importantly for Scipione, it gave him unfettered access to the papal treasury. He seems not to have distinguished spending the papal treasury on matters that furthered the papacy and papal estates from personal spending. He also freely used the power his position gave him for personal purposes.


Casino Borghese in April 2014 with Sidney

Looking at the collection in the Galleria Borghese, you can see he collected ancient statuary and Renaissance art but also a lot of contemporary art, which meant Caravaggio, among others. The Sick Bacchus and Boy with a Basket of Fruit were believed to have been in the possession of Cavalieri d’Arpino, for whom Caravaggio worked briefly. Scipione wanted those paintings so invented charges to have d’Arpino thrown into prison. The price for getting out—the two paintings.

Caravaggio gave the Saint Jerome to Scipione after he help Caravaggio out of trouble with the law. Caravaggio had beaten a lawyer who wanted to marry the woman who modeled for Mary in the Madonna dei Palafrenieri. Caravaggio apparently was also sweet on her.


The Madonna was supposed to have been Caravaggio’s great triumph. Having a work displayed in St. Peter’s was every artist’s ambition. The Palafrenieri, a confraternity of papal grooms, commissioned the painting for an altar prominently near the entrance of St. Peter’s. The subject is a simple allegory of Mary and Jesus trampling a serpent, the symbol of evil and the original sin. Mary’s mother, Anne, witnesses. The painting came down only days after its installation. Why? Nothing is recorded, but possibly because Mary is an ordinary Roman woman and she is showing cleavage, this was seen as another instance of failing to follow Council of Trent rules? Or perhaps because St. Anne, the patron saint of the Palafrenieri, looks too old and wrinkled, therefore not becoming.

The Palafrenieri paid Caravaggio 75 scudi, lower than his usual payment by 1606. Scipione offered to take it off their hands for 100 scudi. He must have loved the bargain.

dsc00229-121. Saint John the Baptist in the Desert 1603-06 Rome Galleria Corsini

As mentioned in my November 6 blog, dispute continues about whether this is by Caravaggio or by someone good at copying Caravaggio’s style. What do you think? Cinnabar red but is that a Caravaggio type of face?

Looking at the St. John paintings chronologically, I think, you see a change of mood. The early Johns look cheeky, smiling and suggestive, while the later Johns are not smiling and pensive or even brooding.

Death of the Virgin in the Louvre, Paris

The year 1606 piled on a number of misfortunes for Caravaggio. The Madonna dei Palafrenieri was rejected as was his Death of the Virgin. (After Caravaggio fled Rome, Peter Paul Rubens saw that painting and convinced the Duke of Mantua to buy it. It now hangs in the Louvre in Paris.) And of course, he killed Ranuccio Tomassoni and did a runner to avoid execution.

area where Caravaggio stabbed Tomassoni

Some of the works we saw have not been definitively dated. These include the St. Francis paintings.

dsc00197 22. Saint Francis in Prayer 1610? Rome San Pietro in Carpineto Romano (on loan to Palazzo Barberini)

23. Saint Francis in Prayer/Meditation 1610? Rome Santa Maria della Concezione

There are three almost identical paintings of Saint Francis. Whether they were painted before or after Caravaggio left Rome is uncertain. They were commissioned in 1606 before Caravaggio fled but he probably did not have time to paint them before leaving Rome. X-rays show in the underpainting of the one in the Barberini that Caravaggio made changes, making it most likely the original. The others were probably copied by him for patrons asking for the same subject.

St. Francis, not only was a popular Counter Reformation subject, but the order itself grew and offshoots of the Franciscan order arose during this period. St. Francis and his order, who took very literally the priesthood’s vow of poverty, contrast with the aggrandizement efforts of so many popes (and their nephews). One of the St. Francis paintings was commissioned for the monastery of Santa Maria della Concezione, which houses a Capuchin order, an offshoot Franciscan order, that emphasized preaching and the care of the sick and poor. Their habits are brown like a cappuccino coffee, thus they were nicknamed Capuchins.

Santa Maria della Concezione exterior

The starkness of Caravaggio’s painting and the humble depiction of people made him the ideal painter for Franciscans and their offshoot orders. No photos were allowed inside Santa Maria della Concezione because it remains a functioning monastery.  The name Concezione refers to the Immaculate Conception. Many non-Catholics think this refers to the birth of Christ, but it refers to the birth of Mary as one without sin. There is no basis for this in the gospels so rejected by Protestants, which in turn, made it a subject emphasized in the Counter Reformation.

Caravaggio rented rooms in this building in Campo Marzo

Caravaggio went missing for a number of months after the July killing. He likely found sanctuary with one of his patrons. Many speculate the Colonna family, patrons and also from Milan, sheltered him. He eventually surfaced in Naples, where the pope had no jurisdiction as it was part of the Spanish kingdom. Naples and Sicily (also under Spanish rule) at various times were known the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies until as late as 1860.

dsc0026824. Seven Works (Acts) of Mercy 1607 Naples, Italy Pio Monte della Misericordia

dsc0030525. Flagellation of Christ 1607 Naples, Museo di Capodimonte

I discussed these in my November 6 blog. Caravaggio was greeted like a rock star when he reached Naples. The works were immediate sensations in Naples and spawned a huge number of artists copying or more positively, influenced by, Caravaggio’s style to the extent that they are known as Caravaggisti. The confraternity paid Caravaggio a fortune for the Seven Works, purportedly 1000 scudi or ducati. An average working family of five in Naples lived on about 25-30 scudi annually.


26. Jerome (Writing) 1607 Valletta, Malta  John’s Co-Cathedral img_1544

27. Beheading of Saint John the Baptist 1608 Valletta, Malta Oratorio di S Giovanni Battista dei Cavalieri

I discussed these in my November 10 blog. Caravaggio went to Malta and succeeded in becoming a knight but he just could not keep out of trouble. By fighting with a higher ranking knight, then escaping, he was now hunted by the Knights as well as those who wanted the bounty for the murder of Tomassoni.

Both the first visit to Naples works and the Maltese works start to show increasing empty space and a restricted, darker, more sombre palette. Interpretation of the dark and emptiness suggest death or foreboding, which Caravaggio must have felt knowing the continual threat on his life. The John the Baptist, by showing the actual beheading, continues the dramatic violence in Caravaggio’s work.

It is unfortunate that no photos were allowed in the Oratory. The St. John is Caravaggio’s largest work and its immense size feels like looking at a movie screen for a modern viewer. The intense moment occurring in the painting only increases the sensation.

Artists needed patrons if they wanted significant commissions and to become famous and make a lot of money. In Caravaggio’s case, patrons probably also saved his life—at least, for a while. Some of his patrons had sons who were Knights of Malta and would have been in Malta when Caravaggio fought with a Knight and ended up in a dungeon. They may have helped him escape the escape-proof dungeon.

Fort St. Angelo where the dungeon is located

Meanwhile, in Rome, patrons were working to help obtain a papal pardon for the murder of Tomassoni.

Siracusa, on the island of Sicily, was the closest port to Malta, so likely why Caravaggio first went there. It was also the home of a former assistant and possible lover from early Rome days, Mario Minniti. Minniti may have been the model for Boy with a Basket of Fruit. He returned to his hometown Siracusa around 1600 and ran a painting workshop producing Caravaggisti paintings, some say mediocre repetitious Caravaggisti paintings. He may have acquired the St. Lucy commission for Caravaggio. I describe the Lucy painting in my November 9 blog.


28. Burial of Saint Lucy 1608 Syracuse, Bellomo Palace Museum (on loan from Basilica di Santa Lucia al Sepolcro)

For reasons unknown, Caravaggio left Siracusa and headed north to Messina.



29. Raising of Lazarus 1609 Messina Museo Regionale

dsc0045830. Adoration of the Shepherds 1609 Messina Museo Regionale

The Siracusa and Messina paintings show increasingly more empty space. The St Lucy is more than half empty space. They also employ fewer layers of paint, with quick, single paint strokes. The lighting looks patchy, not seamless, more spot focussed. The subjects emphasize humble, ordinary people.

Some interpreters see Caravaggio as becoming more humble and repentant, possibly more haunted or hunted. An early biographer claimed Caravaggio acted paranoid while in Sicily.

He stayed only nine months in Sicily before returning to Naples. Maybe Sicily was too close to Malta. Families of his patrons lived in Naples. There he may have felt safer.

dsc0016631. John the Baptist 1610 Rome, Borghese

dsc0015532. David with the Head of Goliath 1610? Rome Borghese

As papal nephew, Scipione Borghese held the influence to get Caravaggio a pardon and he badly wanted Caravaggio back in Rome to provide more paintings. And Caravaggio must have wanted to return to Rome since he was not safe in Naples; someone attacked him with a sword, seriously disfiguring his face.

By the summer of 1610, he expected a papal pardon. When Caravaggio left Naples to return to Rome, a letter from a bishop in Naples to Scipione informed him that Caravaggio was bringing him three paintings, two John the Baptists and a Mary Magdalene. The whereabouts of two of those paintings remain unknown but the John the Baptist at the Galleria Borghese is highly likely one of the three.

What happened during Caravaggio’s final days remains confused. One story goes he sailed on a boat, got off and because of mistaken identity was arrested. The boat with all his belongings left without him. When he got out of jail, he tried to overtake the boat on foot through malarial swamps, became ill and died. What is known is that his three paintings were retained by the Viceroy of Naples on the basis the boat was Neapolitan and its unclaimed contents belonged to the Spanish king, of whom, the Viceroy was his representative in Naples. Scipione demanded the paintings as their owner. Eventually, Scipione retrieved the John the Baptist and presumably the other two paintings, but what happened to the other two remains another Caravaggio mystery.

While in Naples, he reportedly sent a Salome with the Head of John the Baptist to Alof de Wignacourt, the Grandmaster of the Knights of Malta. Interpreters see Caravaggio’s self-portrait in St. John’s head as a plea for forgiveness. The London National Gallery has a similar Salome but most experts think the version in the Royal Palace in Madrid is the version sent to de Wignacourt.

Salome with the Head of John the Baptist 1609-1610 National Gallery London

Many also think Caravaggio painted the David with the Head of Goliath around the same time and see Goliath’s head as another self-portrait. Again, the work yields interpretations as a plea for forgiveness or a sign of repentance. The sword in David’s hand carries an inscription H-AS OS; this has been interpreted as an abbreviation of the Latin phrase humilitas occidit superbiam–humility kills pride–the humility of David triumphant over the pride of Goliath. Except, David does not look triumphant to me. Michael Fried sees Caravaggio as both David and Goliath, interpreting this as the artist struggling to create himself.


The rapid brush strokes support the dating of this as a late work.

dsc0028133. Martyrdom of Saint Ursula 1610 Naples Galleria di Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano

The Denial of St. Peter, now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and the Saint Ursula were Caravaggio’s last paintings.

The Saint Ursula is located in what was a palace, then in the 1920s turned into a bank, Banca Intesa, which it still partly remains, while part of the bank became an art gallery.

The son of the Doge of Genoa, Marcantonio Doria (like in Doria Pamphilj) commissioned the painting in 1610. It disappeared during the 18th century and reappeared in 1814, wrongly attributed to Mattia Preti (a Caravaggisti), in the legacy of Giovanni Maria Doria. It was left at the Doria family’s country estate at Eboli (90km south of Naples). After the WWII, the villa and painting were sold to Baron Romano Avezzano. The Banca Commerciale bought the painting, badly damaged by this time and with uncertain provenance, in 1972 for the modest sum of 8 million lire (around €4000). Restoration in 2003-2004 confirmed it was Caravaggio. Lesser works have been valued in excess of $100 million US, so this would easily be worth double. Nice investment for the bank.

The damage makes it difficult to see some details but it shows much of the painterly style of his late paintings. Michael Fried again argues this is a painting about a painter painting himself and sees the king as a Caravaggio self-portrait. This is a hard argument to make since Caravaggio seems to have included himself second from the right behind Ursula.

Despite the problems with the paint, this is now one of my new favourites because of the way the paint has been handled. Like older Rembrandt and Titian paintings, the paint is used more thickly and becomes more obvious than layered, thin, finely handled paint in earlier works. “Old painter paintings” was one label I have heard for this phenomenon of later works. This kind of handling of paint gives these works are more modern feel, more like Impressionist paintings or Abstract Expressionism.

So, to do a final count, I missed seeing two paintings, although I had seen the Deposition or Entombment on previous Rome trips, so therefore, saw 31 Caravaggios on this tour plus 6 in London.

What I learned about Rome, Naples, Sicily and Malta on my tour:

church in Trastevere

This was my fourth visit to Rome. I learned that I can walk the historic centre around Piazza Navona and Campo di Fiori without a map and without getting lost. I saw the Galleria Corsini, parts of the Capitoline Museums and Casino Ludovisi that I had not seen before. I also managed a side visit to Santa Maria in Trastevere and saw inside 3 churches I had seen only the exteriors of. But there’s still many places in Rome I want to visit particularly in Trastevere, the area around the Vatican, that has a less touristy, more working class feel. I have seen less than 40 of Rome’s 900 churches and definitely want to see some churches like San Pietro in Vincolo near the Colosseum, Santa Maria degli Angeli both with Michelangelo works as well as Bramante’s Tempietto at San Pietro in Montorio. I also have not seen the Giardino degli Aranci and the key of the Knights of Malta, Villa Farnesina with Raphael’s frescoes, Palazzo Colonna’s gallery, Palazzo Spada with Borromini’s corridor . . .


Naples feels dirty and chaotic but I definitely would return. The Capodimonte museum would be well worth spending more time to view and I saw little of the port area. The archaeological museum looks worth a visit as well. Naples is close to Pompeii and Herculaneum as well as the Amalfi peninsula and the islands of Capri and Ischia, all places I want to visit. It would be easy to return.


I saw so little of Sicily that I did not even get a sense of the place. The Ortigia island where we stayed was upscale and probably quite different from the rest of Siracusa and Sicily. We had to skip a walking tour in order to catch the plane to Malta so I barely glimpsed the ancient Roman ruins that are on the island. Other parts of Sicily, particularly Palermo, I am interested in visiting.


Malta had two good Caravaggio paintings but I am not sure I would go again. The beaches are very attractive to UK visitors as is the general British feel of the place. It felt rather touristy, although, that may be because of the limited places where we went. It has some Neolithic structures older than Stonehenge inland where we did not visit.

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