Caravaggio in Malta
- Nov 4, 2019
Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio!
The Milan-born Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio is widely known for his realistic observation of the human figure as well as for being a troublemaker. Nowadays, he’s recognised as one of the most important painters of the Baroque period that happened to have a colourful past that included Malta.
Considering his tragically short life, Caravaggio seems to have experienced life in a hurry. He left a trail of art and havoc as he travelled from Rome to Naples, and from Sicily to Malta.
The Milanese spent less than two whole years in Malta; however, that period was marked by artistic evolution and personal drama.
After a street brawl that ended in Caravaggio murdering a man, the artist/criminal sought the escape from the authorities.
Initially, he opted for Naples. After a brief stint in this southern Italian city, he made his way to the Maltese archipelago on a self-imposed exile. With a bounty on his head, the young artist hustled hard and planned to win the patronage of the Knights of St John, who ruled the islands at the time.
Caravaggio’s genius was quickly recognised by Grandmaster Wignacout, thanks to a series of commissioned portraits. The latter was so enthralled by Caravaggio’s talent, that he also knighted him!
The artist crafted a good number of paintings that truly showcase his astounding artistic talents and shows a master at his peak. Two of these paintings are housed within St John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta. The Beheading of St John and St Jerome Writing are exhibited in the cathedral’s oratory.
Art critics around the world widely consider the Beheading of St John as one of the most important paintings in Western art. Caravaggio excellently depicted death, cruelty and raw human emotion through art. The clever use of chiaroscuro, vivid reds and warm yellows are clear examples of Baroque art at its finest.
His idyllic stay was cut short. After embroiling in an argument with the knights themselves, he was jailed in 1609. Ever the daredevil, the Italian attempted a heroic escape and succeeded. He returned to Italy and died in 1610. His death, like his life, is shrouded in rumours and tragic tales.
Despite his young age and short life, Caravaggio is still revered as one of the greatest artists of the Baroque era. His creative stint in Malta impacted the country’s artistic heritage as he continued to enrich the islands with the Baroque treasures that it’s widely known for today.