Italian scientists think they found Caravaggio's bones

RAVENNA, Italy Wed Jun 16, 2010 11:26am EDT

A painting of of Baroque artist Michelangelo Merisi, known as Caravaggio, is seen on a wall near the house where Caravaggio was born in the northern Italian town of Caravaggio March 8, 2010. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo

A painting of of Baroque artist Michelangelo Merisi, known as Caravaggio, is seen on a wall near the house where Caravaggio was born in the northern Italian town of Caravaggio March 8, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Alessandro Garofalo

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RAVENNA, Italy (Reuters Life!) - Italian anthropologists believe they have finally found the remains of Baroque artist Caravaggio, resolving a centuries-old mystery shrouding the master's death.

Researchers working under the umbrella of Italy's National Committee for Cultural Heritage said on Wednesday they were almost certain the bones found in a Tuscan ossuary matched those of Michelangelo Merisi, known as Caravaggio.

"We have carried out DNA testing on these remains and looked at the results alongside presumed relatives of Caravaggio, people with the same family name," Professor Giorgio Gruppioni, a physical anthropologist in the research team, told Reuters television.

"We have compatibility with these genetic strands. So this person ... could have probably come from the same family group as the modern day Merisi," he said, holding a skull fragment.

Famed for his wild life -- he is said to have killed a man in a brawl and fled Rome with a price on his head -- Caravaggio pioneered the Baroque painting technique of contrasting light and dark known as chiaroscuro.

Scholars have put forward many theories on the artist's death in 1610, including that he was killed on a deserted Tuscan beach or collapsed there due to a strange illness, perhaps syphilis.

In 2001 an Italian researcher claimed to have found the painter's death certificate, which led the experts to the Tuscan cemetery of San Sebastian and then onto an ossuary in the nearby town of Porto Ercole.

The researchers said no burial was recorded in that cemetery in 1610, and the Spanish, who controlled Porto Ercole at the time, seized the remains and buried them secretly, apparently to stop anyone from claiming ownership rights to his paintings.

The team also looked for physical attributes in the bones, and a high level of iron content that would have been present in a man of that period and age.

"There are another two elements that make up this mosaic. First of all the age, 39 years of age, our tests show that this age is compatible," said Silvano Vinceti, head of the National Committee for Cultural Heritage.

"And the height, Caravaggio was over 1.70 meters tall, and also in this regard we have positive results," he said.

"Well, all these elements, put together with others allow us to say with certainty, speaking as an historian, that these remains belong to Caravaggio," he said.

The scientists now hope they will be able to give Caravaggio a proper burial but first aim to put his remains on display in Porto Ercole.

Italy is currently marking the 400th anniversary of the Baroque master's death with major exhibitions, including one in Rome seen by up to half a million people.

(Reporting by Antonio Denti, Writing by Antonella Ciancio; Editing by Philip Pullella and Paul Casciato)

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