BY ABIGAIL CAIN
No one is quite sure how Caravaggio died. Perhaps, as researchers suggested in 2010, it was lead poisoning from oil paint. Perhaps, as another scholar claimed in 2012, he was murdered by a vengeful contingent of the Knights of Malta. Or perhaps it was simply heat exhaustion that pushed the already-wounded artist over the edge.
What no one disputes is that, in the years leading up to his untimely death, Caravaggio’s work underwent a transformation. And according to Keith Christiansen, chairman of the European painting department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, those changes distilled the painter’s genius even further.
Christiansen encouraged the Met’s 1997 purchase of The Denial of Saint Peter (1610), Caravaggio’s penultimate painting. “It was then my conviction, and has been increasingly so, that Caravaggio's most moving and profound works” were created during the artist’s final years in exile from Rome, Christiansen said, during a lecture at the Met earlier this month.
Caravaggio did not leave the city of his own accord. A brawler with a temper, he had been known to prowl the streets with a pack of painters and swordsmen, looking for trouble. But this mischief-making turned criminal on May 28, 1606, when Caravaggio killed a man named Ranuccio Tomassoni during a gang fight. The artist had always claimed friends in high places, but this time they couldn’t clear his name (at least, not right away). Rather than face capital punishment, he slipped away from Rome………