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.

The Beheading of St. John the Baptist (1608)
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.

details: The artist painted his signature on the this masterpiece in his own blood
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.

Other details from the painting
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
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
Silvia Messeri & Sandro Pintus

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