The Artist Birthday Series


"Martyrdom of St. Ursula," 1610 - Caravaggio's last known painting
“Martyrdom of St. Ursula,” 1610 – Caravaggio’s last known painting


What happened next is the subject of much confusion and conjecture. The bare facts are that on 28 July an anonymous avviso (private newsletter) from Rome to the ducal court of Urbino reported that Caravaggio was dead. Three days later another avviso said that he had died of fever on his way from Naples to Rome. A poet friend of the artist later gave 18 July as the date of death, and a recent researcher claims to have discovered a death notice showing that the artist died on that day of a fever in Porto Ercole, near Grosseto in Tuscany. Human remains found in a church in Porto Ercole in 2010 are believed to almost certainly belong to Caravaggio. The findings come after a year-long investigation using DNA, carbon dating and other analyses.

Italian geologist Antonio Moretti transports bones presumed to be part of baroque artist Michelangelo Merisi (also known as Caravaggio) out of Porto Ercole cemetery on December 21, 2009 in Porto Ercole, central Italy. A group of investigators initiated the search for the remains earlier this month. Scientists are conducting the search to find out more about the mystery surrounding the death of Caravaggio.
Italian geologist Antonio Moretti transports bones belonging to Caravaggio out of Porto Ercole cemetery on December 21, 2009 in Porto Ercole, central Italy.

Some scholars argue that Caravaggio was murdered by the same “enemies” that had been pursuing him since he fled Malta, possibly Wignacourt and/or factions in the Order of St. John. It is also possible that Caravaggio may have died of lead poisoning. The bones found in Porto Ecole also contained high levels of lead. Paints used at the time contained high amounts of lead salts. This could also explain Caravaggio’s violent behavior, as such behavior is often caused by lead poisoning.

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