Potential heirs DNA tested in Caravaggio death hunt

Thu Mar 11, 2010 2:05pm EST
 
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By Marie-Louise Gumuchian

CARAVAGGIO, Italy (Reuters Life!) - Six possible descendants of Baroque artist Michelangelo Merisi, known as Caravaggio, have been DNA-tested in the hopes they can help unveil the mystery surrounding the painter's death.

The cause of death in 1610 and the whereabouts of the corpse have always been unclear but a team of Italian anthropologists believe that what is left of Caravaggio's body may be hidden among dozens of bodies buried in a crypt in Tuscany.

For months, the team -- from the departments of Anthropology and Cultural Heritage Conservation at the universities of Ravenna and Bologna -- have exhumed remains of long-buried corpses in the hope of performing a belated autopsy.

This week they travelled to the northern town of Caravaggio, where Merisi grew up, to carry out tests with possible descendents -- some of them carrying derivations of the family name. As Caravaggio died childless the team looked for the painter's closest blood descendents in search of a match.

"We have carried out DNA tests on some individuals who have the same surname as Caravaggio, that is Merisi, and whom we think could be genetically linked to the great painter," Professor Giorgio Grupponi said at the testing. "We'll then proceed to compare their DNA with that of the remains."

Caravaggio pioneered the Baroque painting technique of contrasting light and dark known as chiaroscuro. The only images of the artist available until now have been self-portraits.

He was famed for his wild life and legend has it he died on his way to Rome to seek pardon for killing a man in a brawl.

"If would be a great surprise for me if this DNA test would show a match (with Caravaggio)," Stefano Merisio, one of those being tested, said. "I have never thought about it. I have never considered this possibility. It would make me happy, surely."   Continued...

 
<p>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. Six possible descendants Caravaggio have been DNA-tested in the hopes they can help unveil the mystery surrounding the painter's death. Picture taken March 8, 2010. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo</p>