Caravaggio led a tumultuous life. He was notorious for brawling, even in a time and place when such behavior was commonplace, and the transcripts of his police records and trial proceedings fill several pages. On 29 May 1606 however, he killed, possibly unintentionally, a young man named Ranuccio Tomassoni from Terni (Umbria). The circumstances of the brawl and the death of Tomassoni remain mysterious. Several accounts refer to a quarrel over a gambling debt and a tennis game, and this explanation has become established in the popular imagination. But recent scholarship has made it clear that more was involved, as in Peter Robb’s great book M and Helen Langdon’s Caravaggio: A Life. An interesting theory relating the death to Renaissance notions of honour and symbolic wounding has also been advanced by art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon.
Previously his high-placed patrons had protected him from the consequences of his escapades, but this time they could do nothing. Caravaggio, outlawed, fled to Naples. There, outside the jurisdiction of the Roman authorities and protected by the Colonna family, the most famous painter in Rome became the most famous in Naples. His connections with the Colonnas led to a stream of important church commissions, including the Madonna of the Rosary, and The Seven Works of Mercy.
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