On May 29, 1606, in Rome, during a brawl over a disputed score in a game of tennis, Caravaggio killed his opponent, Ranuccio Tomassoni. He then fled to Malta to avoid probable execution for his crime, but sent his painting of

 David holding the head of Goliath to the papal court as a kind of painted petition for pardon for the murder.  Interestingly, Caravaggio presents his self portrait as the severed head of Goliath, not the youthful David.  In fact pardon was granted by the Pope upon seeing this painting, but news of the Pope’s decision did not reach Caravaggio before he died in Porto Ercole of fever. Would you have pardoned Caravaggio if you were the Pope?  Would an artist of a lesser skill level have fared as well?  In the next post I’ll discuss the lighting Caravaggio used to create this striking work, a technique  known as tenebrism.

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