Caravaggio’s Hole

ottavio-leoni-a-portrait-of-michaelangelo-caravaggio-1621-e1276798005902

I was put here by the order of the Knights of St John. I curse them for their inept minds. None of them appreciate that I am the master when it comes to painting fine religious works. I was censured for my forward thinking in my approach to painting by no less a person than the Pope. I curse him to for his short-sightedness, his blinkered vision of what makes a great work of art. I am Caravaggio, the finest painter who has ever lived. The others who believe they are my peers are fools and charlatans – I curse them, I have killed men for less…

My enemies await my return to Italy, lying, scheming and plotting my demise – hah! I spit on them, nay I piss on them. None are worthy to be in my presence. I painted my finest work here in Valetta for all to see and wonder at and yet I am treated like a common criminal – I Caravaggio who has created paintings so fine that not even those who presume to be my contemporaries can begin to compare their paltry daubs with my finest work.

This stinking cell beneath the ground of the fort is my living tomb. They think to break my spirit – hah, never. My anger gives me strength where weaker men would wilt and die inside this dark hole. I shall contrive to escape this hole and this lowly rock, this Malta. My gaoler brings me food; slops not fit for a pig, once a day at the change of the guard. Tonight I shall feign sickness. I shall call for the physic or the apothecary. Better that it is the physic. He is a lay brother, a simple fellow of low intelligence. But I will admit he does relieve the vapours in my system when he bleeds me. One blow on the back of his head, or my hands around his throat choking him into unconsciousness and I shall exchange clothes with him and escape.

I need a boat. Tomelini the gate keeper owes me his life. He shall smuggle me through the streets down to the docks in Grand Harbour. I always knew when I plunged my blade into his attacker that Tomelini was mine to do with as I chose. What hour is it – four, five? My gaoler will soon come. I must prepare. When he opens the grating and lowers the ladder to descend, I shall lay feigning agony. Hark; I hear the sound of footsteps above. Now is the time for my finest acting to begin. The guard will have his back to the grating; he never stands close because of the stench of my tomb. His back will be turned; an easy target.

I can hear the key turning in the padlock, steady now. The grating is opening. The ladder is lowered. I count the ladders rungs as he descends. The eighth from the top and the third from the bottom creak. I must avoid them when I climb out of here.

“Here’s your food your worship, eat it all up.”

Just a little closer worm – closer…

“Pray send for the physic good gaoler. I have need of him I implore you.”

“So – what of it your worship; I care not if you are ailing. I just deliver your fine dish of food.”

“I implore you good gaoler, your masters above would not look kindly on you should I die in your charge – please good sir, I beg of you?”

“Guard fetch the physic. His worship is ailing.” 

“Thank you kind sir; when I am released I shall praise your generosity of spirit – thank you.”

Just turn your back you loathsome scum. Hah – got you. Die you stinking toad spawn – die!

Now, avoid the third rung from the bottom – good, next the eighth from the top – good. Now slowly and calmly walk towards the kitchen. The guard will be back soon. Stop! Two figures approach. Let them pass. It is the guard and the physic. A quick blow to head of the guard; and now for the physic – die you leech, die!

His clothes are an ill fit, but no matter. The gate is unguarded, a welcome happenstance; now for Tomelini and freedom…

***

Back in 2002 while on holiday in Malta, I visited the hole where the painter Caravaggio was imprisoned on the island of Malta for killing a man. He did successfully escape and return to Italy. But his many enemies finally caught up with him, killing him. To my mind while Caravaggio was clearly a thoroughly arrogant unpleasant individual, no one can deny that he was possibly the finest painter of religious art of his age…

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