| by Silvia Messeri
Caravaggio, executioner and victim
The largest painting by the artist on exhibition in Florence
One of the most important cultural events that accompanied the European
Summit Meeting in June was without doubt the Caravaggio from Malta to Florence
exhibition. Expressly desired by Guido Clemente, the City of Florence Councillor
for Culture, the magnificent Beheading of St. John the Baptist will be open
to the public until September 30th. Commissioned by the Great Master of
the Order of the Knights of Malta and carried out in 1608 to decorate the
altar of the chapel dedicated to the saint, the work is the largest Caravaggio
ever painted (360x530cm.) and is also the only one the artist signed.
Caravaggio went to Malta to avoid the death penalty that had been
inflicted on him after committing a murder in Rome and, with the bloodless
body of the saint, he seems to be portraying his victim and, at the same
time, his own end. The scene is set in the courtyard of a prison in front
of two prisoners who can be seen looking on through a grille. The executioner
is hiding the short dagger in his right hand which he is about to use
to finish cutting off the head which will then be placed on a tray held
by a young woman. The blood is flowing from the neck of the saint and
Caravaggio wrote his signature in its gory stream. The artist was to die
on the beach of Porto Ercole only a few years later from wounds received
in an ambush.
The Beheading of St. John the Baptist (1608)
After the exhibition, the painting will be taken to the Opificio
of the Pietre Dure for another restoration, after the one carried out
in 1956 at the Central Institute of Restoration in Rome, to try to reduce
the effects of the deep scratch along the lower edge of the painting caused
by an act of vandalism or an attempted theft which took place in 1991.
details: The artist painted his signature on the this masterpiece
in his own blood
The other paintings in this superb exhibition are the Sleeping Cupid
and the Portrait of the Knight of Malta, both carried out by Caravaggio
during his stay in Malta but which instead come from Florentine museums.
Caravaggio from Malta to Firenze
Other details from the painting
Palazzo Vecchio, Hall of the Five Hundred, until September 30th.
Hours: weekdays 9am-7pm, holidays 8am-1pm. Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays
and Saturdays 9am-11pm. Closed on Thursdays.
Catalogue published by Skira editore
See also: Interview with Prof. Guido Clemente,
City of Florence Councillor for Culture
FAN-Florence ART News
& Sandro Pintus