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Did Caravaggio meet a grisly end - with the Vatican's complicity?

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In one of his most graphic paintings, the rabble-rousing Renaissance artist Caravaggio depicted his tortured face on the head of Goliath, slain and decapitated by the boy warrior David.

An Italian historian thinks that Caravaggio may have met just such a grisly end – at the hands of the Knights of St. John of Malta, the chivalric order founded during the Crusades.

Vincenzo Pacelli, a Caravaggio expert from the University of Naples, has unearthed documents from the Vatican Secret Archives and state archives in Rome that suggest the Knights ordered the artist to be assassinated in revenge for him attacking and wounding on one of their members during a brawl.

They then dumped his body in the sea at Palo, north of Rome, which would explain why there are no documents recording his death.

Until now, conventional wisdom said Caravaggio died either from an illness or lead poisoning from the oil paints he used.

The murder was “commissioned and organized” by the Knights of Malta and carried out with the complicity of the Vatican, Mr. Pacelli says in his forthcoming book, "Caravaggio – Between Art and Science."

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