I went all over Europe and North America, tracking Caravaggio’s works and the places that touched his life. But in particular to Rome, Naples and Malta.
On one of my Rome sojourns, an exhibition showed C’s use of mirrors to project images (over which he painted). He used his own head, probably in a convex mirror, to paint his “Medusa,” now in Florence at the Uffizi. The Rome exhibit made a nice mock up. Life size, as you see.
C lived most of his time in Rome in the palaces of wealthy patrons. For a brief period, he rented this house in a tiny street in Rome’s historic center. Then he fell behind on the rent, lost the place, got drunk and went around to break his landlady’s windows.
Lena lived on the Via dei Greci. In the heart of what used to be the Ortaccio, or Evil Garden, where only whores and the very poor lived. And artists, of course. Both places are now very expensive spots. But they’re still redolent of C’s time. At night, they’re dark and empty. Though not spooky. I never get spooked in Rome. Too damned happy there.
The site of the Ceriglio Tavern, Naples, where C was attacked on his way out. He got a scar, probably to teach him a lesson, and an injury to his eye, which can be seen in his last work. I noticed that for much of the afternoon anyone headed toward C’s digs at the Palazzo Cellamare would be blinded by the sunlight. A good time for an attack.
My friend Ugo Somma showed me around Naples. Here he is in conversation with a fellow named Rosario who works for the Knights of Malta in Naples. At first Rosaria wouldn’t let us look around the Knights’ church. But when I told him he looked like Caravaggio, he relented and even introduced me to his sister…But that’s another story.
At the Knights’ Priory in Naples, these fellows were hanging around in the courtyard looking like mafia capos waiting to rub someone out. A non-Neapolitan had been named that morning as the new Prior. They were, as the Italians say, “arrabiati.” Mad as hell. Their expressions and demeanor gave me an idea for a plot twist in A NAME IN BLOOD.
They say, “See Naples and die.” Unfortunately for C, that’s how it worked out, quite literally. Naples is magical, lively, putrid and beautiful. From the Spanish Palace looking at San Francesco, here’s one moment when I thought: Matt, you lucky fellow, isn’t “research” great?
Father John Critien is the only Knight of Malta who currently lives in Castle Sant’Angelo on Valletta’s harbor in Malta. C was imprisoned here, and made a dramatic escape. Father John and I spent a delightful afternoon examining all the spots where C might’ve been held. Many think it was in a hole in the rock called the guva.