Known for his love of prostitutes, young boys, and brawling, in 1606 Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio killed a young man in Rome and fled to Naples. The Colonna family gave him protection and in that year Caravaggio painted The Seven Acts of Mercy.
A few months later, he left for Malta where he found wealthy patrons in the Knights of Malta, but he was soon arrested and imprisoned for another brawl that left a knight seriously wounded. Caravaggio escaped to Sicily where he received more well-paid commissions while displaying strange behaviors such as sleeping fully armed in his clothes. After nine months, he returned to Naples to ask the Colonna family to protect him once more while he waited for a pardon from the Pope. He then painted The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula, his last picture.
Today, at least three important Caravaggio paintings are on display in Naples. Seeing them can make for a charming day-trip through the city:
The Galleria di Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano, Via Toledo 185, Naples. Built by architect Cosimo Fanzago in the 17th century, the Banca Commerciale Italiana bought this Palazzo in 1920. Climb up two flights of marble stairs and a gallery houses Caravaggio’s Martyrdom of Saint Ursula.
Pio Monte della Misericordia, Via Tribunali 253, Naples. A once important charitable organization in the city, this church houses Caravaggio’s The Seven Acts of Mercy. Volunteer today down the street at Missionarie della Carita, which passes out food to the homeless.
In 1610, Caravaggio took a boat from Naples to Rome in order to receive the Pope’s pardon, which would be granted thanks to his powerful friends. But he never made it, apparently dying of a fever during the journey. Speculation continues about lead poisoning – which might explain Caravaggio’s uncontrollable violence. Only in 2010 did researchers exhume certain remains found in a church in Porto Ercole, Tuscany, and, subjecting them to DNA and carbon dating analysis, they concluded that the remains were almost certainly those of Caravaggio.