Caravaggio and the Knights of St John: A Strange Relationship

Caravaggio and the Knights of St John

In July AD 1607, at the age of 38, Michaelangelo Merisi, known as Caravaggio, was invested as a Knight of the Order of St John of Malta.

At the time he was on the run from the Italian authorities, having committed murder.  It might seem strange that he should join a Religious Order that was dedicated to Holiness, celibacy and unquestioned obedience to the Grand Master.


The first part of this talk covers the origins of the Knights of St John. Originally known as the Knights Hospitallers, the Order was founded in Jerusalem in AD 1203 by a group of Amalfi merchants in order to care for pilgrims visiting the Holy City. Following the First Crusade they became a Military Religious Order dedicated to the protection of Christendom over against Islam. In AD 1530, Emperor Charles V gave them the island of Malta as a base.

We then look at the life of the artist, who was born in Caravaggio, near Milan in AD 1571. We explore his ambivalent relationship with the Church and his complex personality; a personality which was violent, yet capable of producing works of art which portray a depth of emotion, sensitivity and beauty.

This lecture, which is popular with NADFAS audiences, can easily be adapted for a Study Day.