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This article is taken from PN Review 16, Volume 7 Number 2, November - December 1980.

How did Caravaggio Die? Christoph Meckel

Translated by Christopher Middleton

DO YOU know how Caravaggio died?

To an art-historian it doesn't matter. It does matter to me.

I can't sever Caravaggio's actual existence-the history of his times, his life, his death-from his pictures. He is an artist who has touched me.

Van Gogh's depressions, and the monotonous meals of Pontormo, noted in his diary each day; Max Beckmann's urbane conceit, masked, sporting a tuxedo, and George Grosz's drinking-to me these weren't insignificant. The serenity of Matisse in his old age always stuck in my mind; and de Staël's suicide, at least for me, said something about the progression of his work, his development, his method.

Then I saw Caravaggio's David, the hacked-off giant head in David's fist, a self portrait of the painter when he was thirty-three, and this image hounded me into insomnia. In Rome for a few weeks I went every day to the Villa Borghese and looked at this David of Caravaggio's, this one picture. I learned it optically by heart. I've never forgotten the worn, gaping teeth, the jaw sagging and bloody, the enraged mouth of the beaten giant, gargoyle face, broken angel, barbaric innocence.

Humanity in the lavatory of Creation. Face of the Abyss. Visage of Dark Night. The maudit.

And I thought: This is how someone must look on the way through hell, aftermath of a life of subversion, revolt, protest; anarchy of a productive ...


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