Caravaggio: The Punk Rock Baroque Pistolero

Whilst many believe the punk rock spirit of artistic rebellion and personal nihilism started with the birth of rock and roll - the truth may be that they're literally centuries off the mantle.
Publish date:
Social count:
Whilst many believe the punk rock spirit of artistic rebellion and personal nihilism started with the birth of rock and roll - the truth may be that they're literally centuries off the mantle.


Between the years of 1571 to 1610 an artist existed who took a rapscallions blowtorch to temperance and the authoritarian boundaries of his day. His name was Caravaggio. Over a ten-year period he was the pioneer of the Baroque movement - a form of painting that favoured dramatic naturalism and deep, rich colour as a form. It was a style that brought him instant success. His disturbing and brilliant paintings of religious icons and events bought him favour and standing from no less luminaries than the pope himself. Quite literally he was the chief artistic pistolero of his day.

Unfortunately Caravaggio was also a complete madman. Like a great whirlwind of Italian menace he embraced like dark side of his huge talent with a whip hand glee, bordering on the psychotic. Spending a fortnight at a time creating his masterpieces, he would then spend the next couple of months, sword in hand, looking for trouble and mayhem. He even had his own catchphrase ('boil their balls in oil') which he would baudily announce in the game courts of his hometown before drawing his weapon in anger. It was no idle threat either. Caravaggio was credited with at least one murder in 1606. He fled in fear for his life after that incident but not before trashing his apartment in a rage and scrawling 'fuck the pope' on the walls. Arguably the most powerful man in Italy at the time - it was like signing a slow death warrant. For Caravaggio it was an ominous tolling of a bell he hardly noticed.

More Punk...

The Bard Of Salford: In Praise Of John Cooper Clarke

The Punk Orthodox Saved My Life

Ironically it was that same pope and other powerful patrons who saved Caravaggio from certain execution. With masterpieces like 'The Conversion of St Paul' and 'Young Sick Bacchus' still emanating from his fingertips -  his talent kept him afloat for the time being in dangerous waters.  Behind the scenes however Caravaggio’s enemies were gathering like black wasps. And trouble wasn't far behind too. In Malta in 1608 he was involved in another infamous brawl, and in Naples a year later he was seriously injured in what many believed was an attempt on his life. By this time the painter had been instigated in many violent incidents, including an attempted castration of a sporting opponent. Thrown in jail regularly and still showing little sign of remorse, his time was running out.

Ironically, Caravaggio probably knew it too. In his most famous masterpiece 'The Head of Goliath', the depiction of David holding aloft the severed head aloft of his opponent is a grisly scene. Tellingly, Caravaggio had painted his own head as the decapitated trophy. He created the piece final years of his life, as the hammer of fate was coming down on him. Shortly after, he lost his life in mysterious circumstances, in the coastal town of Tuscan Porto Ecole. Whilst the official cause of death was vaguely put down to a mysterious fever (malaria) or poisoning from his own lead paints, a new intriguing theory has recently been put forward by historical experts, that Caravaggio was actually murdered by the mysterious Knights of Malta. This was in revenge for one of their brotherhood being badly wounded by the painter in the country. It's an interesting theory and certainly one that's not beyond the call of truth given an incident is already recorded there What is certain however is that however Caravaggio met his violent demise, you get the sense he went out fucked up, furious and fighting.