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MILAN (Reuters Life!) - Italian anthropologists expect to have a definite result in their investigation into Baroque artist Caravaggio's death in May, hopefully unveiling a centuries old mystery.
Italy's National Committee for Cultural Heritage has been working since last year to find out what caused the painter's death in 1610 and the whereabouts of his corpse.
Working with different experts from different universities, the group has now pinned down nine sets of bones that could prove a match to Michelangelo Merisi, known as Caravaggio.
In the latest week, tests on the soil where the bones were dug up could bring them closer to finding an answer.
"If all goes well, we hope to get the definitive answer in May," Silvano Vinceti, head of the committee, said. "I am an optimist ... This is the last occasion, if we don't manage with all the work and research that we have done, no else can after."
Last week, Vinceti traveled to the northern Italian town of Caravaggio, where Merisi grew up, for DNA tests on six possible descendants. These will be put against the long-buried remains.
"What awaits now is the most complex part," Vinceti said.
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.
"He was a genius but very little is little known about Merisi," Vinceti said. Scholars have put forward many theories about Caravaggio's death. The most popular are that he was assassinated for religious reasons or collapsed with malaria on a deserted Tuscan beach. However, in 2001 an Italian researcher claimed to have found the painter's death certificate, which allegedly proved that he died in hospital.
Vinceti said the committee wanted to turn its attention to Leonardo Da Vinci next.
Editing by Paul Casciato