Experts on hunt for Caravaggio’s resting place

Crypt bones could confirm resting place, team says.

(ANSA) – Siena, December 11 – A team of anthropologists has launched a high-tech project aimed at clearing up a 400-year-old mystery surrounding Caravaggio’s death. The investigation, which is trying to identify his bones, will also give historians and fans a clearer idea of what one of the West’s greatest artists looked like. Infrared scanners, CAT scans, DNA analyses and carbon dating are being deployed in the hunt for Caravaggio’s remains, which got under way at the small Tuscan port town of Porto Ercole on Wednesady. Experts from Bologna University’s Heritage Conservation Faculty and Ravenna University’s Anthropology Department have taken their equipment down into a cemetery crypt where Caravaggio’s remains are thought to lie buried. In the four centuries since his death, numerous theories have been advanced about his resting place. Of the eight possibilities still considered possible today, the most widely accepted is that of art historian and Caravaggio expert Professor Maurizio Marini.

According to Marini, Caravaggio landed in Porto Ercole after fleeing Naples by boat with a serious wound. Already ill when he set down in the Tuscan port, his health deteriorated further when he contracted typhoid after eating contaminated food. Marini believes he was taken in by the Santa Maria Ausiliatrice hospital where he died in 1610 and was buried in the Church Of St. Erasmus. The art historian based his conclusions on records found in the church, which listed Caravaggio as having died in the parish in 1609. Marini attributes the difference in dates to the fact the Gregorian calendar had not yet been introduced to this part of Tuscany. The record also confirms that Caravaggio was buried in the small San Sebastiano cemetery. This closed in 1956 and all the remains were transferred to the Porto Ercole cemetery.

The anthropologists, accompanied by a cave expert, have started their investigation in one of the cemetery’s three crypts, home to around 30-40 sets of bones. Over the next few days, they will sort through the remains and separate out those belonging to young men that appear to have died in the 17th century. These will then be taken to a special laboratory set up for the occasion in a building that used to house the town’s elementary school. Here they will try to narrow down the search further, before taking candidate remains to the anthropology department in Ravenna for a series of tests. The first analysis will be carbon-dating, to try and establish exactly how old the bones are. This will be followed by DNA testing. Samples will be extracted from the bones and compared with that of male descendents of Caravaggio’s brother. If the experts successfully identify the artist’s remains, they will use these to generate an image of what he may have looked like alive. Currently, the only existing images of Caravaggio are based on self-portraits, as there are no known paintings of him by third parties. If the team gets nowhere with this first venture, they will shift their hunt to another location. According to the National Committee for the Promotion of Historic, Cultural and Artistic Heritage, which is coordinating the project, the Porto Ercole cemetery is the more likely of two possible locations. Art historians consider Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1573-1610) the most revolutionary artist of his time but he is probably best known today for his mastery of chiaroscuro lighting. Orphaned at the age of 11, be began his painting career at a young age in Milan, after which he moved to Rome. Here, his dramatic style and realistic naturalism caused outcry but also won him fans. However, his violent nature landed him in prison several times and he was eventually forced to flee from murder charges in 1606.

The remaining years of life saw him moving between hiding places in Naples, Sicily and Malta while seeking a papal pardon.

He received a pardon shortly before he died in 1610.


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