Caravaggio's Criminal Record

Caravaggio was a brilliant artist, but he was one with a short temper.  Much of his early troubles are not recorded, but once his reputation as an artist grew, his rap sheet did as well.  Between 1600 and 1606 his name appeared in police records no less than fourteen times.  Six of those occasions landed him in jail.  Many of these instances were for minor altercations.


Often he was stopped for carrying a sword and dagger without permission. When questioned, he would drop the names of important people he knew, saying that “…I was carrying the sword I usually carry being the Painter of the Cardinal Del Monte and getting a salary for myself and my servant and lodging in his house as well. I am registered in his service.” These powerful alliances with Rome’s elite helped him to avoid much jail time.

In the fall of 1603, Caravaggio was arrested for allegedly distributing a pamphlet insulting another artist, Gian Baglione. After saying that he did not write it, and having the French Ambassador use his influence, Caravaggio was set free, but ordered “not to offend the plaintiff and to consider his house a prison” until another court date.

The next year,1604, provided insight into how short Caravaggio's temper was. He, along with two friends, was eating in the Moor's restaurant at La Maddalena. After ordering eight artichokes, Caravaggio asked which were cooked in butter and which were cooked in oil. The waiter later testified “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.”

In 1606, things went a little differently for Caravaggio when the results of a tennis match turned ugly.  Caravaggio and his opponent got into an argument which turned into a brawl which resulted in Caravaggio being badly wounded and his opponent, Ranuccio Tomassoni, being killed at the hand of Caravaggio.  Though wounded, Caravaggio went on the run, moving from city to city outside the jurisdiction of the Papal authorities in Rome.

In 1607, Caravaggio was in Malta where he was offered a knighthood by the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem.  An insult to one of the knights landed him in jail and stripped him of his knighthood.  With no powerful friends to come to his rescue, Caravaggio managed to escape the prison and flee to Sicily.

In Sicily his temper caused him more problems, and he traveled back to Naples where he was in a bar fight that nearly cost him his life.

In 1610, Caravaggio took a boat back toward Rome awaiting a pardon from the Pope.  He landed at Palo where he was, this time, mistakenly arrested and imprisoned for a couple of days.  Upon his release he discovered that the boat carrying all of his possessions had left him, so he started out to overtake the boat.  He arrived at Port’Ercole where he died, perhaps of pneumonia, just days before his pardon arrived.

 

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