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Caravaggio's Beheading of St John

Caravaggio's Beheading of St John at the co Cathedral of St John in Valletta.

Caravaggio in Malta:
An Intimate Encounter with the Master of Light

27 June 2023 |

Today we have the rare privilege of sitting down with one of the most revolutionary painters in history. The man who has captured the world's imagination with his dramatic use of light and shadow, Caravaggio. Today, we delve into his time in Malta, a period that has left an indelible mark on both the artist and the island.


Photo portrait of Caravaggio created using AI

Caravaggio, thank you for joining us. Let's start at the beginning. What led you to seek refuge in the Hospitaller Order of Saint John in Malta?

Grazie mille for having me. After a tumultuous period in Rome, where I found myself entangled in altercations and facing the consequences of my actions, I sought solace and redemption in the embrace of the Knights of Malta. The Order, known for its piety and martial prowess, presented an opportunity for me to start afresh.

How did your arrival in Malta impact your art and your life?

Malta was a turning point in my life, both personally and artistically. My experiences there were transformative. The influence of the island's vibrant culture and the Order's noble traditions seeped into my work, infusing it with newfound energy and purpose.

Your time in Malta was not without its challenges. Can you shed some light on the notable incidents that occurred during your stay?

Ah, yes. It was during my time in Malta that I faced yet another brush with the law. An altercation with a fellow knight left me wounded and resulted in my expulsion from the Order. However, even amidst the turmoil, I continued to paint and create some of my most iconic works.

One of your most significant commissions in Malta was "The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist." Could you tell us about the creative process behind this masterpiece?

"The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist" was an arduous yet rewarding endeavor. I sought to capture the visceral and emotive essence of the martyrdom. The play of light and shadow, casting the figures into stark relief, emphasized the dramatic intensity of the scene. It was a testament to my ongoing exploration of chiaroscuro and the power it could bring to a painting.

Your mastery of chiaroscuro indeed reached new heights during your time in Malta. How did the local environment influence your technique and subject matter?

Malta's vibrant and theatrical ambiance certainly left its mark on my art. The island's deep-rooted Catholic traditions provided me with a rich tapestry of religious themes and characters to explore. The interplay of light and darkness in the island's architecture and landscape became my muse, igniting a new level of expression in my work.

As we conclude, how would you summarize the impact of your time in Malta on your artistic legacy?

Malta offered me the opportunity for rebirth, and for that, I am eternally grateful. The trials I faced and the triumphs I achieved during my time there molded me into the artist I became. The island's cultural tapestry, the camaraderie of the knights, and the profound spirituality that enveloped me all contributed to the evolution of my style. Malta was a pivotal chapter in my life, one that laid the foundation for the immortal legacy I leave behind.

Caravaggio, it has been an honor to speak with you. Your time in Malta has left an indelible mark on the art world, and your contributions will forever be cherished.

As we conclude this interview, we are reminded that great art often emerges from the depths of personal challenges. Caravaggio's transformative journey in Malta not only enriched his own life but also gifted us with some of the most poignant and captivating works in the history of art. The island of Malta stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of this master of light, forever illuminated by his artistic genius.

Michelangelo Merisi (1571-1610), known as Caravaggio, was in Malta between 1607 and 1609. His most famous work in Malta can be viewed at the co Cathedral of St John in Valletta.

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