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Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane, By Andrew Graham-Dixon

A portrait of the artist as a young villain

Caravaggio was the master of the down-at-heel street scene.

Lurking in the corners of his astonishingly realistic paintings are card-sharks, thugs, prostitutes. As this biography makes clear, the reason he was able to depict the criminal world with such conviction was because he knew it intimately: one of the greatest painters of the Italian Renaissance was also a killer (and, the author surmises, a pimp) who spent much of his career on the run from his enemies.

Andrew Graham-Dixon gives us compelling interpretations of the paintings, but it's chiefly for his pacy account of Caravaggio's brief and violent life that this superb book is worth reading. Martin Scorsese could do worse than to option the film rights.