Caravaggio’s Criminal Record
February 18, 2011 3:55 PM   Subscribe

Caravaggio's crimes exposed in Rome's police files: "Four hundred years after his death, Caravaggio is a 21st Century superstar among old master painters. His stark, dramatically lit, super-realistic paintings strike a modern chord - but his police record is more shocking than any modern bad boy rock star's. An exhibition of documents at Rome's State Archives throws vivid light on his tumultuous life here at the end of the 16th and the beginning of the 17th centuries." [Via]

On Youtube: Simon Schama’s Power of Art: Caravaggio.
posted by homunculus (50 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
Er, Via.
posted by homunculus at 3:57 PM on February 18, 2011


He had frequent brushes with the police, got into trouble for throwing a plate of cooked artichokes in the face of a waiter in a tavern

Well, who among us hasn't thrown a plate of artichokes? After all this time, I forgive him his sins.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:00 PM on February 18, 2011


"Judith, Judith, Judith."
posted by clavdivs at 4:02 PM on February 18, 2011


He was framed.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:04 PM on February 18, 2011 [19 favorites]


"The accused asked me which were cooked in butter and which fried in oil, and I told him to smell them, which would easily enable him to tell the difference."

oh no he din't
posted by elizardbits at 4:05 PM on February 18, 2011 [7 favorites]


All this pales in comparison with the scandalous life of Leonardo Da Vinci, which merits its own Wikipedia page.
The most overt biographical detail concerning Leonardo's personal life is a Florentine court record showing that in 1476, while in the workshop of Verrocchio, Leonardo (along with two others) was accused anonymously of sodomy with a male prostitute,
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:15 PM on February 18, 2011


The accused asked me which were cooked in butter and which fried in oil, and I told him to smell them, which would easily enable him to tell the difference

I would be inclined to throw that plate of artichokes too.
posted by francesca too at 4:16 PM on February 18, 2011


and made a hole in the ceiling of his rented studio, so that his huge paintings would fit inside. His landlady sued, so he and a friend pelted her window with stones.

Ths is a bit of a habit among artists, it seems. Kurt Schwitters did it, too, after all. Although, to be fair, he owned the house, nor were any rocks thrown. Except, perhaps, by the Nazis, when they demolished it.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:20 PM on February 18, 2011


I love when history is more outrageous than fiction is allowed to be, and I love the BBC article (quoted it myself on Tumblr earlier today), but I do think Caravaggio's offenses aren't that spectacular except the dueling. That looks particularly wild by modern standards, but if you consider it another dumbshit stunt that could get you killed instead of an attempt to kill other people, his career is pretty typical of bad boy rock star types.
posted by immlass at 4:41 PM on February 18, 2011


All this pales in comparison with the scandalous life of Leonardo Da Vinci, which merits its own Wikipedia page.
The most overt biographical detail concerning Leonardo's personal life is a Florentine court record showing that in 1476, while in the workshop of Verrocchio, Leonardo (along with two others) was accused anonymously of sodomy with a male prostitute,


Dude, Caravaggio was a streetfighter! He killed a pimp, wounded a cop, wounded a knight, got himself thrown out of three cities for beating the shit out of everybody, was constantly on the run from people who would have liked to see him dead. And he fucked hustlers.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:49 PM on February 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


Caravaggio and his three companions, one a Captain in the Papal army, met their rivals at a pallacorda court in the Campo Marzio area, where the artist lived.

Caravaggio killed Ranuccio and fled the city.


All I could think about was the exchange from Anchorman:

I've been meaning to talk to you about that. You should find yourself a safehouse or a relative close by. Lay low for a while, because you're probably wanted for murder.
posted by AndrewKemendo at 4:53 PM on February 18, 2011


If you're a fan of this, please please please read Cellini's "Life".

Even if he made up half of the crazy shit he did it makes it toally totally that being Cellini was the best of all possible worlds, naked swordplay on horseback and all.

The most overt biographical detail concerning Leonardo's personal life is a Florentine court record showing that in 1476, while in the workshop of Verrocchio, Leonardo (along with two others) was accused anonymously of sodomy with a male prostitute,


Easily dismiseed, you could accuse anyone anonymously via a drop box in the square. Da Vinci's journals reveal a very ...odd relationship to sex and the body.

One of my big OH I GET IT! synthesis moments was seeing an opera in Vienna. It was The marriage Of Figaro and the staging had been designed to evoke Caravaggio's lighting - which was in turn inspired by the new trend of theaters and performances using direct lighting and darkened stages. Seeing Caravaggio's composition played out in 3-D suddenly hit home the "Oh! He painted stuff like it was a play and soon people starting doing plays like his paintings and that's how we end up with Cinematography and stage lighting!" James-Burke-Personal-Connections-moment.
posted by The Whelk at 4:53 PM on February 18, 2011 [10 favorites]


Anyway it's also a shame too many people read Vasari's Lives and get a very dusty, Whigish view of the Italian masters. Those dudes where the most preening, gossipy, backstabbing divas ever. Michelangelo made a name for himself at 16 by exhibiting his first public statue. Another student made a joke about it, which lead to a full-on student brawl in the streets. Dude broke his nose in seven places.
posted by The Whelk at 4:55 PM on February 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


Christ, what an asshole.
posted by ryanrs at 5:06 PM on February 18, 2011


I smell movie!

Franco or DiCaprio?
posted by droplet at 5:19 PM on February 18, 2011


On Youtube: Simon Schama’s Power of Art: Caravaggio.

Y'all should watch this. I wouldn't vouch for its historical accuracy, but he gets into more trouble than just messing around with artichokes.
posted by juv3nal at 5:20 PM on February 18, 2011


Also--and I'm sure I've said this before here on MetaFilter--in terms of painting (treatment of subject, composition, embracing of modern life and fashions), Caravaggio's clear 20th Century counterpart: Norman Rockwell.

Rockwell was slightly less of a hoodlum, however. (I was giggling just now, picturing lanky old Norman as a picaresque backalley lowlife--until I realized that it'd basically just be William Burroughs. Huh.)
posted by Sys Rq at 5:21 PM on February 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't care what he did or what you call him...that motherfucker could PAINT !
posted by lobstah at 5:23 PM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I knew I had been in Rome for too long* when I muttered in a church, "ANOTHER Caravaggio?"**


*I know, I know

**And I love Caravaggio!
posted by jenlovesponies at 5:25 PM on February 18, 2011


Wait,... nothing involving pubescent boys?!!
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:32 PM on February 18, 2011


The historical peccadilloes of Italian masters are forgivable if you remember that they had little sense of perspective.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:35 PM on February 18, 2011 [11 favorites]


Totally waiting for Caravaggio to show up in Jonathan Hickman's brilliant, batshit, revisionist-Marvel-history S.H.I.E.L.D comic now.

(Leonardo and Michelangelo are already in. Next to Reed Richards' dad and Tony Stark's dad too. Oh, and Imhotep kills a ton of the Brood. If you like Marvel and you like batshit, it is your book.)
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 5:41 PM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also--and I'm sure I've said this before here on MetaFilter--in terms of painting (treatment of subject, composition, embracing of modern life and fashions), Caravaggio's clear 20th Century counterpart: Norman Rockwell.

Not seeing it. Caravaggio's lighting, composition, the sense of "drama" - literally drawing from the stage and lurid subject matter don;t strike me as Rockwellian. I think it's better to say Rockwell was working within the grander umbrella of morally instructive illustration ( Rockwell, to me, fits in much better with say Victorian history painters, a painting has to tell a story and instruct a moral) of which Caravaggio was a part of - embracing a level of caricatured realism away from the stylized medieval cartoons but that's a the big tent of Western Art after like 1300. I really don't see the comparison.

I'd put Rockwell and Vermeer closer together, or even better, Hals. Domestic scenes. Modern "types". Caricature.
posted by The Whelk at 5:45 PM on February 18, 2011


One connection you could make is that Caravaggio's work all looks like it's being lit with stage lanterns while Rockwell's stuff looks like it's under bright movie studio (or photography) lights.
posted by The Whelk at 5:47 PM on February 18, 2011


Not the lights. The flatness. The life.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:48 PM on February 18, 2011


I don't know much about art but I love the pure power and passion in Caravaggio's paintings
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:50 PM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Caravaggio would rip Rockwell's beating heart out of his chest and use it to paint a death portrait.
posted by lobstah at 5:52 PM on February 18, 2011 [8 favorites]


I'd never call Caravaggio flat, it always struck me as being terribly 3-D, a reflection of the stage origin, they're all dim and moody with single, strong light sources and not a lot of concern with the line, and more on the form, the shape rather then the outline.

Rockwell is more linear, like a cartoonist. Sharp edges. Open space. I think any similarity comes from the fact that're both western artists working within a broader tradition and both set up models for scenes.
posted by The Whelk at 5:52 PM on February 18, 2011


If you press me, I think Caravaggio's through line and influence today is in cinema.

This could be a a movie still
posted by The Whelk at 5:58 PM on February 18, 2011


The. Background. Is. Flat.

And not just that they "set up models for scenes" (duh, everyone did that), but that their scenes seemed true to contemporary life.

This. Make them skinnier, and it's pure Rockwell.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:00 PM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


As John Varriano says in his biography of Caravaggio*,
If Caravaggio’s early critics mythologized his naturalism, modern art historians have gone on to create myths of their own. Now we find him described as an agnostic, a deeply religious painter, a queer, an esoteric, a criminal, a clever imitator, a psychoanalytical case study, the voice of the new epistemology, and so on. Clearly Caravaggio was a complex and mercurial character who painted passionate and compelling pictures, but it is less obvious how his life and his art were intertwined, or how one should go about appraising the linkage between the two. Indeed, the biography itself is problematic, for Caravaggio seems to have fashioned his public persona as cleverly as the critics did in recasting rhetorical topoi to make points of their own.

Later in the same esssay he notes,
There is no evidence to suggest that Caravaggio was ever given to theoretical posturing. No letters, no manuscript jottings, and few, if any, reliable firsthand accounts explain what working “from life” might have meant to him. Unlike his followers Simon Vouet and Jusepe de Ribera, who inscribed canvases “ad vivum depicta” or “ad vivum mire depicta” (painted from life or painted marvelously from life), Caravaggio left no such traces behind. Only the transcript from the libel trial brought against him by the artist/biographer Baglione in 1603 gives any indication of the skills he admired in other painters. According to this muddled account, the necessary skills were “knowing how to paint well and imitating natural things well.”
Don't believe the hype.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:08 PM on February 18, 2011


I can't get over the lighting, it just seems to belong to a completely different approach. Also the cardsharks was made at the end of 1500s, which marks a break in Caravaggio's work toward moodier, darker, and more rounded (less flat) compositions.

Illustrating contemporary scenes was a novelty in Italy, but the northern countries had a strong tradition of "type" painting, and I'd place Rockwell closer to that tradition, again more like Hals or even Bruegel.

I'm comfortable saying Carravaggio helped merge that tradition into the big, bombastic style of southern European painting.
posted by The Whelk at 6:09 PM on February 18, 2011


Illustrating contemporary scenes was a novelty in Italy, but the northern countries had a strong tradition of "type" painting, and I'd place Rockwell closer to that tradition, again more like Hals or even Bruegel.

But those were boring.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:18 PM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Little people pooping out of windows is boring?
posted by The Whelk at 6:19 PM on February 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yes.

I WIN THE DERAIL!
posted by Sys Rq at 6:29 PM on February 18, 2011


Caravaggio killed Ranuccio and fled the city.

All I could think about was the exchange from Anchorman:


Great. Now I'm going to be thinking of Caravaggio as Brick.

"I KILLED A MAN WITH A TRIDENT! I STABBED IT THROUGH HIS HEART!"
posted by sonika at 6:31 PM on February 18, 2011


Let's not forget Derek Jarman's film: Caravaggio (1986). Trailer [01:41].
posted by ericb at 6:49 PM on February 18, 2011


Notes from a MeFi post I meant to make in 2009:
"What begins in the work of Caravaggio is, quite simply, modern painting." Putting the oscuro into chiaroscuro, Caravaggio (1573-1610) profoundly influenced the new Baroque, but his life story was just as much a bold contrast between light and dark as any of his paintings. Orphaned after his family escaped a plague in Milan, he did quite well in Rome until a botched attempt to castrate Ranuccio Tomassoni after winning a duel resulted in Ranuccio's death. Ranuccio was continually turning up in police records in the company of prostitutes, but never as a customer, and Caravaggio's, including once with Fillide Melandroni, supposedly the greatest prostitute in Rome at the time, and subject of several Caravaggio paintings, including Portait of a Courtesan of which only photographs remain. Fillide's prostitute friend Anna Bianchini also modelled for Caravaggio.
Unfortunately all the links associated with it are now broken.
posted by furtive at 7:13 PM on February 18, 2011


Caravaggio, yet another example of how mediocre Jeff Koons is.
posted by Relay at 7:28 PM on February 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


If you're a fan of this, please please please read Cellini's "Life".

Seconded. The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini is one of the best books I've ever read. It starts out a little slow, so just trust me and stick with it through the first 50 pages or so. You would not believe how awesome it gets later on. I wish to God HBO would turn it into a miniseries.
posted by uosuaq at 9:00 PM on February 18, 2011


Let's not forget Derek Jarman's film: Caravaggio (1986). Trailer yt [01:41].

I was about to mention that. I'll always think of Ranuccio working on his motorcycle.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:01 PM on February 18, 2011


The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini - online and Project Gutenburg download; other free downloads.
posted by adamvasco at 1:13 AM on February 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


1. Caravaggio's works feature human beings interacting with one another
2. ???
3. Norman Rockwell

I mean, wtf? Norman Rockwell was a skilled illustrator, he is nowhere on any timeline featuring Breugel or Caravaggio. At least none published outwith the USA.
posted by fire&wings at 2:07 AM on February 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I loves me some Caravaggio, but that website of his is one epic fail. How many windows does a site have to spawn just to give the viewer a decent view of a painting? Geez.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:18 AM on February 19, 2011


Awesome, adamvasco, thanks!
posted by yerfatma at 6:38 AM on February 19, 2011


The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini...
posted by adamvasco


Now I need to track down a recording of the Gershwin/Weil Broadway musical, The Firebrand of Florence.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:57 AM on February 19, 2011


I like Rockwell, but he never painted a stoner portrait like Caravaggio's Bacchus.
posted by ovvl at 10:46 AM on February 19, 2011


Bacchus looks exactly like a clean-shaven version of my friend Geoff. It's uncanny. I've never been able to take him seriously because oh, hey, it's a picture of Geoff eating some grapes!
posted by sonika at 1:58 PM on February 19, 2011


THANK YOU a million time for the point to the S Schma's series!! I'm about to watch number 4, I've sent the link to all of my former Art students via facebook. What a WONDERFUL series!!! Getting nothing done AGAIN today and that's ok!!!
posted by pearlybob at 5:55 AM on February 20, 2011


The Whelk wrote:

If you press me, I think Caravaggio's through line and influence today is in cinema

True enough. It is well known that Mel Gibson (I know, I know) and his team extensively studied Caravaggio's works for ideas and camera angles in the staging of many of the shots in The Passion of the Christ.
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 10:59 AM on February 20, 2011


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