After 400 years, secret of Caravaggio's death may be solved at last

Italian researchers believe they have found the remains of Caravaggio, but 400 years later some of the mysteries surrounding the death of the master artist may never be solved.

After a year of digging and analysing centuries-old bones, the researchers said yesterday they have identified a set of bones they believe to be Caravaggio's, though they admit they can never be 100 per cent certain.

They think Caravaggio may have died from sunstroke while weakened by syphilis and other ailments.

The set of bones – a fragment of the frontal part of the skull, two jaw pieces, a femur and a fragment of the sacrum, the bone at the base of the spine – were displayed in Ravenna, where most of the analyses have been carried out. Kept inside a rectangular case, the bones rested on a silk red cushion.

Caravaggio died in Porto Ercole, a town on the Tuscan coast, in 1610. At 39, he had been a celebrity painter and led a dissolute life of street brawls, boozing and encounters with prostitutes. His last days are shrouded in mystery.

The team of scientists and historians dug up and studied bones found in Porto Ercole's crypts, and combed through archives in search of papers documenting Caravaggio's movements. The group conducted carbon dating, DNA tests and other analyses on the bones, until they singled out one set of fragments – "Find No. 5".

"There can't be the scientific certainty because when one works on ancient DNA, it is degraded," Giorgio Gruppioni, an anthropologist on the team, said.

"But only in one set of bones did we find all the elements necessary for it to be Caravaggio's – age, period in which he died, gender, height."

The group says there is an 85 per cent probability they are right, though team leader Silvano Vinceti said: "We are being cautious. As a historian, I can say we have found the remains."

The DNA comparison was conducted between the bones that had been identified and that of some possible male relatives in Caravaggio, a small town in northern Italy where the painter – whose real name was Michelangelo Merisi – was born in 1571. Caravaggio had no known children, therefore no direct descendants.

Mr Gruppioni said they identified a genetic combination in those whose last name was Merisi or Merisio, compatible with traces found on the bones in question. Because the bones are old and the DNA degraded, not all genetic characteristics could be confirmed.

The cause of Caravaggio's death has been the subject of much conjecture. Possibilities raised by scholars range from malaria to syphilis to murder at the hands of one of the many enemies Caravaggio made over the years. The researchers believe that Caravaggio may have died from sunstroke, saying that 1610 was recorded as an extremely hot year. The project wrapped up as Italy marks the 400th anniversary of Caravaggio's death, remembering him as a revolutionary artist who changed the history of modern painting.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Development Manager

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Service and Installation Engineer

£22000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: SEO / Outreach Executive

£20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is a global marketin...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Estimator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?