Skeleton of Dead Young Italian Art Star Caravaggio Found Full of Lead

06/17/2010 3:41 PM |


Bones unearthed by Italian anthropologists last year have officially been confirmed as the remains of 16th century painter and party boy Caravaggio (b. 1571), and the high levels of lead found in the remains may finally put to rest the mystery of his death.

A team of experts led by Georgio Grupponi and Italy’s National Committee for Cultural Heritage unearthed the bones in Tuscany late last year. After comparing DNA samples from the remains to his modern day descendants, it has been confirmed that it is in fact the Italian master himself. His untimely death in 1610 has puzzled historians for years; guesses ranged from murder to syphilis. But the lethal level of lead in his system, due most likely to the paints he used, is the most probable cause of death.

Born Michael Merisi in 1571, Caravaggio’s work bridged the gap from stylized Italian Mannerism to the high drama of the Baroque period. Plus, he made quite the reputation for himself even before his induction into the art historical canon. Known for getting into drunken brawls and chasing men and women alike, he had to flee Milan for Rome around 1590 to escape his legal troubles. Legend has it that he once killed a man over a game of tennis. Which, you know, might seem totally reasonable to someone with about as much metal in their system as Wolverine.

The discovery came right in time for the 400th anniversary of Caravaggio’s death, currently being celebrated in Italy with a major exhibition at Rome’s Scuderie del Quirinale. Plans are currently under way for a public viewing of the bones and a proper burial will be soon follow. (Washington Post)

2 Comment

  • Many Renaissance artists used lead in their painting materials so it may be likely that Caravaggio died of lead poisioning especially if he was in the habit of wetting his brush in his mouth, to procure a better point to the tip of the brush, and so ingesting the lead.
    In the same vein, if Beethoven, and this may never be known, had a habit of licking his pencil before writing, as many sketching artists did in the past, to give a stronger impression to the strokes of the pencil, then, perhaps lead poisoning was one of the conditions for his death.
    I don’t think either can be discounted.