As a painter, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571 –1610) was a master of light and shadow. He was also a skilled swordsman, a street brawler and a killer, a friend of cardinals and prostitutes, and, before he was 39, dead.
Both famous and infamous, Caravaggio had friends in places high and low. Inducted into the Order as a Knight of Malta, he was ignominiously expelled a short time later for being “a foul and rotten member.” About 80 of his paintings survive, not counting the ones he personally destroyed in fits of anger.
As you might expect, there’s an “archives” and a “research” connection to all this.
Remarkably, much of the detail of the dark side of his life in Rome is preserved in the late 16th and early 17th century police records stored in the Roman archives (the "Archivio di Stato di Roma") and these records have now been restored with private donations.
So, why should you be interested/concerned about a dead Renaissance artist in long-ago Italy?
There’s actually a simple answer.
Even if you’re unlikely to discover a relative like Caravaggio in Roman police records, it’s nonetheless instructive to learn about the level of specific detail in these kinds of records and to look at the images and their translations. Take a few minutes and check out David Willey’s story about the records and their contents that appeared on the BBC – Europe website a few days ago. Here’s the direct link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-12497978
[Hint: be sure to click on the images of the records to get the English language translation and commentary.]
Remember: the more you learn about stuff that you don't need to know about, the better researcher you'll become.
The other plus is that you’ll learn such obscure things as the delicious details about the assault with artichokes.