SAUL TO PAUL: ‘The Conversion on the Way to Damascus’ by Caravaggio (1601)

The great and brilliant Caravaggio (1571 – 1610) goes down in history as the legendary bad boy.  His life was termed turbulent; his attitude – mad, bad and perilous. He lived by the sword and was apparently prosecuted for having carried one in public without a license. His litany of infringements include throwing a plate of artichokes in the waiter’s face, casting a sword against another man in a love dispute, hurling stones at his landlady and the worst of all murdering a man over a tennis match brawl.

With the eventual death sentence hanging round his neck, he flees from Rome to Naples, Sicily and Malta. Thanks to his powerful Roman lobby, in the summer of 1610 he receives a pardon for his crime. As he sails northwards towards Rome the news of his sudden spasmodic death spreads throughout the region. The cause was cited to be fever but later argued to be a murder.

The mystery surrounding Caravaggio’s death can hardly be compared to the fresh breath of life rendered by his art to posterity. His crazy genius is well reflected in today’s masterpiece titled ‘The Conversion on the Way to Damascus’. It was executed in 1601 for the Cerasi Chapel of the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo, in Rome. The work was commissioned by Monsignor Tiberio Cerasi, Treasurer-General to Pope Clement VIII who had purchased the chapel from the Augustinian friars in July 1600.    

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