Caravaggio was born as Michelangelo Merisi on September 29, 1571, in Milan, Italy, to Fermo Merisi and Lucia Aratori. His father was the steward and architect of the Marquis of Caravaggio and his mother came from a propertied family of the same district.
Not much is known about Caravaggio’s early years. His family moved to Caravaggio in 1566 to escape a plague which ravaged Milan. When Caravaggio was only six years old, his father died and his mother later died in 1584.
When he was eleven years old he went back to Milan and began apprenticing with the Milanese painter Simone Peterzano. At the age of 21, he moved to Rome, Italy’s artistic center and an irresistible magnet for young artists keen to study its classical buildings and famous works of art. The first few years were a struggle and he worked assisting other painters.
Caravaggio quickly burst into the Rome art scene. He was famous for his remarkable speed and his work soon caught the attention of Cardinal Francesco del Monte, and he quickly commissioned works from Caravaggio (The Musicians, The Lute Player and The Stigmatization of St. Francis). He was also was awarded the commission for the decoration of the Contarelli Chapel in the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome.
Caravaggio’s paintings were very controversial for that period. He caused a major scandal by using the corpse of a drowned prostitute as a model for his “Death of the Virgin.”
His paintings weren’t the only thing that were controversial. He was a man quick to anger, and known to be violent man and subject to drastic mood swings and a love for drinking and gambling.
He was involved in many incidents. One of them included throwing a whole plate of artichokes in the waiter’s face in 1604. According to the Roman police logs, he also attacked Roman guards with stones in 1605.
In 1606 Caravaggio’s temper went a step too far. After an argument over a tennis game, he stabbed and killed a well-known Roman pimp named Ranuccio Tomassoni. With a price on his head, Caravaggio was forced to flee Rome for the last time.
Caravaggio spent his last years desperately running from one city to another, all the while trying to get a papal pardon to be able to return to Rome. Caravaggio went to Naples where he painted “Madonna of the Rosary” and “The Seven Works of Mercy.”
He then went to the island of Malta, an independent sovereignty, and home of the Knights of Malta. There he tried to gain the influence of the Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller of St. John, Alof de Wignacourt. He was accepted into the Order and while he was in Malta he created “Beheading of St. John the Baptist.”
Apparently, he couldn’t stay out of trouble and attacked one of the most senior knights in the Order of St. John in Malta. He was imprisoned by the Knights in August 1608 but managed to escape just one month later.
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Caravaggio died under unknown circumstances around the 18th of July, 1610, after only a decade-long career. His body was never recovered.