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Friday, 21 December, 2001, 17:17 GMT
Caravaggio death certificate 'found'
Caravaggio's The Supper at Emmaus
The Supper at Emmaus is at London's National Gallery
An Italian researcher claims to have found the death certificate of Caravaggio and cleared up the mystery of how the genius of Baroque art met his end.

Over the years, scholars have advanced many theories about Caravaggio's death.

Among the most common are that he was assassinated for religious reasons, and that he collapsed with malaria on a deserted beach.

But Giuseppe La Fauci says the alleged death certificate shows that Caravaggio died in hospital in 1610.

Mr La Fauci - an architect and Caravaggio enthusiast - has spent eight months in Porto Ercole, a port town in central Italy, studying church records.

Boy Peeling an Apple
Caravaggio pioneered the chiaroscuro technique

He discovered the slip of paper on Wednesday, tucked into an ancient church record book.

The official record book from the period was "lost or stolen", he said.

What Mr La Fauci found, he says, was the scrap of paper on which a priest originally recorded Caravaggio's death in the town before transcribing it into a ledger.

The document is said to read: "On July 18, 1609 in the S Maria Ausiliatrice hospital, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, painter, died of illness."

Due to a difference in the calendar at that time, that would put his death at 18 July 1610.

Echoing the claims of at least one other biographer, Mr La Fauci claimed the likely cause of death was typhus.

'Monument'

There was apparently too little time between Caravaggio's arrival on the malaria-infested coast and his death for the painter to have come down with malaria, since the illness requires a considerable incubation period.

Mr La Fauci said he had been motivated to search for the artist's death certificate "as part of a project to build a monument to him".

Caravaggio pioneered the Baroque painting technique known as chiaroscuro, in which light and shadow are sharply contrasted.

But his wild life that has captured just as many imaginations as his art the years.

He was famed for starting brawls, often ended up in jail, and even killed a man.

He was allegedly on his way to Rome to seek a pardon when he died.

He was born in 1571 or 1573, depending on which history text one reads, and spent the last few years of his life fleeing justice in southern Italy.

See also:

03 Sep 01 | Arts
Art show to defy criticism
10 Jul 01 | Arts
Da Vinci sketch fetches 8m
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