A team of experts from the universities of Bologna and Ravenna — led by Georgio Grupponi, and working under Italy’s National Committee for Cultural Heritage — unearthed the bones last year in an attempt to solve the mystery of the artist’s heretofore unexplained death in 1610. For the next few months, the anthropologists worked to match DNA from the bones and teeth found in an ossuary in Porto Ercole with that of other skeletons buried within tombs bearing the artist’s family name, as well as with modern Merisi descendants. The researchers further employed carbon-dating techniques to determine if the skeleton belonged to the painter.
The conclusion: The bones once belonged to the quick-tempered master of chiaroscuro, who is said to have murdered a man over a game of racquets. “All these elements, put together with others allow us to say with certainty, speaking as an historian, that these remains belong to Caravaggio,” Silvano Vinceti, head of the National Committee for Cultural Heritage, confirmed.
Four hundred years after Caravaggio’s death, moreover, Italy may finally have some clues as to its cause. It seems that the level of lead in his bones — derived in part, no doubt, from his artistic medium — is high enough to have killed him, and to have driven him to the kind of madness that incites rowdy tavern brawls.
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