Death of the Caravaggio

I am probably the only person who thinks that the title of this post is clever.

On Thanksgiving evening, the family was gathered around B’s iPhone, answering questions to online geography quizzes. J and I vied to do an art quiz, and I found myself stumped on one of the questions:

Caravaggio died of what disease?

I was embarrassed that I didn’t know the answer to this question, since I’m an art historian who claims Caravaggio as my favorite painter. However, after doing some research, it looks like the circumstances surrounding Caravaggio’s death are uncertain. The art history quiz cited “malaria” as the correct answer, but a relatively recent discovery of Caravaggio’s death certificate has led an Italian researcher to propose that the artist died of typhus. Taking into consideration the change in calendar, this certificate places Caravaggio’s death as July 18, 1610. Therefore, the period between Caravaggio’s arrival at malaria-infested Porto Ercole and his death would not have allowed time for malaria to sufficiently incubate. It appears that typhus is a more logical cause for the recorded “illness” that caused Caravaggio’s death.

Note: The cause of Caravaggio’s death is something completely different from the Caravaggio disease, something that I’m pretty sure I have contracted.

  • Emilee . . . says:

    I had no idea that Carvaggio was so, what would be a good word . . . volatile, perhaps? I had no idea he killed a man.

    Let there be no doubt about it Monica, the things you write are fascinating.

  • M says:

    Oh yeah, “volatile” is a great word to describe Caravaggio. I definitely wouldn’t want to be on Caravaggio’s bad side!

  • Annette says:

    Here’s an irony, Monica: I have painted a scene en plein air at Porto Ecole. Grandpa Paxman did one, too. We had a perfect lunch beside the glistening bay, with nary a malaria infested mosquito to be found. Lucky us – on all counts.

  • Nik "the BoyWonder" says:

    Hey M* This is your friend Nik 🙂 I stubbled across you blog just now. I hope it is ok to read it. I think it is always interesting to see who and why people love an artist. This is really awesome. He was an Icon in Rome. I also love his use of dramatic light. Extreme Light and Dark is something I tend to emphesise in my paintings. But I tend to mix colors more like the Dutch Masters….ok I am getting boring I will stop rambling now!

  • M says:

    Nik! I’m glad you found my blog. I love Caravaggio’s use of light as well – I think that was one of the things that first attracted me to his art.

    I’d enjoy looking at your art sometime – do you have anything posted online anywhere?

  • Nik "the BoyWonder" says:

    I have so old stuff I did in school on my facebook page…nothing very special…most the stuff I do now is comic book and animated stuff…Sadly I have not gotten the FINE ART on lately….

Email Subscription



This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.