Caravaggio’s Criminal Record
- 4 May 1598: Arrested at 2-3am near Piazza Navona, for carrying a sword without a permit
- 19 November 1600: Sued for beating a man with a stick and tearing his cape with a sword at 3am on Via della Scrofa
- 2 October 1601: A man accuses Caravaggio and friends of insulting him and attacking him with a sword near the Piazza Campo Marzio
- 24 April 1604: Waiter complains of assault after serving artichokes at an inn on the Via Maddalena:
Statement to police by Pietro Antonio de Fosaccia, waiter, 26 April 1604:
About 17 o’clock [lunchtime] the accused, together with two other people, was eating in the Moor’s restaurant at La Maddalena, where I work as a waiter. I brought them eight cooked artichokes, four cooked in butter and four fried in oil. 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.
He got angry and without saying anything more, grabbed an earthenware dish and hit me on the cheek at the level of my moustache, injuring me slightly… and then he got up and grabbed his friend’s sword which was lying on the table, intending perhaps to strike me with it, but I got up and came here to the police station to make a formal complaint…
- 19 October 1604: Arrested for throwing stones at policemen near Via dei Greci and Via del Babuino
- 28 May 1605: Arrested for carrying a sword and dagger without a permit on Via del Corso
- 29 July 1605: Vatican notary accuses Caravaggio of striking him from behind with a weapon
- 28 May 1606: Caravaggio kills a man during a pitched battle in the Campo Marzio area
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.
Caravaggio’s friendships, daily life and frequent brawls - including the one which brought him a death sentence from Pope Paul V - are described in handwritten police logs, legal and court parchments all bound together in heavy tomes - and carefully preserved in this unique repository of Rome’s history during the Renaissance and after.
The picture the documents paint is that of an irascible man who went about town carrying personal weapons - a sword and dagger, and even a pistol - without a written permit, boasting that he enjoyed the protection of the ecclesiastical authorities who commissioned some of his most famous works.
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, 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.
All these events are documented with eyewitness accounts in this collection of yellowing parchments - difficult to decipher for the non-specialist, but rich in contemporary detail for a skilled archivist.
The documents provide a completely new account of his most serious brawl in May 1606 in which he killed a certain Ranuccio Tommassoni. This brawl - just like a modern-day clash between warring gangs - was arranged in advance by eight participants who have all now been named.
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. (Pallacorda was a game played with a ball with a string attached - an early form of tennis, which some older Romans still remember seeing played in the streets of the capital in the mid-20th Century.)
Some biographers have suggested that there may have been an argument over a woman, but the text of the court report suggests the quarrel broke out over a gambling debt. Caravaggio killed Ranuccio and fled the city.
One of Caravaggio’s own supporters was seriously injured. Taken to prison, he was subsequently put on trial, and the new evidence emerges from the report of this trial.
Article via BBC