By Anne Leader

On 29 May 1606, the great Italian Baroque painter Caravaggio killed Ranuccio Tommasoni in Rome. The artist and Tommasoni began to brawl over a bet on a tennis game. This event was the last in a series of troubles Caravaggio brought upon himself through his volatile temperament. He fled the city that had been his home since 1592 fearing arrest and execution.

He first hid on estates owned by the Colonna who shared a Lombard heritage with Caravaggio. Though on the run, Caravaggio continued to paint, completing works such as his second Supper at Emmaus (Milan, Brera) and a now-lost Magdalene. He was in Naples by October, and also spent time in Malta and Sicily.

Andrew Graham-Dixon has proposed that rather than a fight over a bet, Caravaggio and Tommasoni were instead fighting over a prostitute, Fillide Melandroni. A report written by the barber surgeon who examined Tomassoni’s dead body indicates that Tomassoni bled to death through the femoral artery in his groin, suggesting that Caravaggio had tried to castrate him. According to Graham-Dixon, “… particular wounds in Roman street fights meant particular things. If a man insulted another man’s reputation he might have his face cut. If a man insulted a man’s woman he would get his penis cut off.“

Reference: John Gash. “Caravaggio, Michelangelo Merisi da.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. Web.

Further reading: Caravaggio by Catherine Puglisi (2000); Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane by Andrew Graham-Dixon (2011).

Supper at Emmaus, 1606, oil on canvas, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan

The Crucifixion of St Andrew, c. 1607, oil on canvas, Museum of Art, Cleveland

Ottavio Leoni, Portrait of Caravaggio, ca. 1621. Florence: Biblioteca Marucelliana.

Christ at the Column, c. 1607, oil on canvas, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen

Madonna del Rosario, c. 1607, oil on canvas, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

The Seven Acts of Mercy, c. 1607, oil on canvas, Pio Monte della Misericordia, Naples

Flagellation, c. 1607, oil on canvas, Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples

Portrait of a Courtesan (Fillide Melandroni?), ca. 1597, oil on canvas, formerly Berlin (destroyed 1945)

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