Sunday, October 20, 2019
Food LegendsFun facts


Michelangelo Merisi from Caravaggio experienced Rome and a symbol of the Roman cuisine: stuffed artichokes. And it was a stormy relationship

Only 3 days ago Rome celebrated its birthday, 2,357 years. In Via della Maddalena, “in the road that goes from the Rotonda to Campo Marzio,” district of Campus Martius, there is the Osteria del Moro. The evening of April 24, 1604, is fresh, yet spring is in the air. There are few people on the street, but the taverns are full. They give you food, and above all, you can enjoy a little bit of company (of women of course) or play cards with the swindler on duty.

A man from Milan sits at a table in the Osteria del Moro. Well-known womanizer, sharp goatee and young mustache, long hair, dark and vulpine eyes. This 33-year-old Merisi Michelangelo is famous for other reasons: he is the most important painter of his time. People know him for the little place where he was born, a village near Milan with 4 houses and a handful of starving peasants: Caravaggio.

Merisi settled perfectly in Rome. Very important Cardinals (like Del Monte) and priests forgive him everything: his talent saves him from any stupid things he might have done. After a few months, at the age of 19, he immediately left the house of a priest who used to feed him with vegetables and salad.

Merisi settled so well that he sympathized with more than one prostitute. These ladies end up on papal court papers for jealousies, scarring, and bricks drawn to customers who sympathize with competitors. This is the case of Anna Bianchini and Fillide Melandroni, both from Siena, the first, red hair, and harlot from the age of 12, the second who entertains her lovers between Trinità dei Monti and Via Condotti. Among them a certain Ranuccio Tomassoni, and we will find him again later.

Merisi is forgiven so much that he is allowed to paint his girlfriends in some of the most important religious-themed canvases in the history of art. See the Death of the Virgin, today in the Louvre, in which he portrayed Anna Bianchini found dead in the Tiber.

Death of the Virgin, where Anna Bianchini can be recognized

Here you can see Saint Catherine of Alexandria, so similar to Fillide Melandroni, introduced to Caravaggio by Ranuccio himself:

Saint Catherine of Alexandria, where Caravaggio portrays Fillide Melandroni, a prostitute he loves

But Merisi Michelangelo from Caravaggio is not one who forgives. Others do, those who are not Michelangelo Merisi, IL Caravaggio.

Caravaggio’s artichokes

Three days ago, Rome celebrated its 2,357 birthday and Michelangelo Merisi from Caravaggio, the most famous painter of his time, the one who is always forgiven, orders artichokes at the Osteria del Moro in Via Della Maddalena, in the Scrofa district.

The boy serves them to him. There are 8 Roman artichokes, stuffed with minced garlic, mint, breadcrumbs, parsley.

The artichokes were back in vogue recently, not even 100 years. It was Caterina de ‘Medici who had renewed the prestige in France, where she had taken them from her Florence. Here Filippo Strozzi the Elder introduced them in 1466, and Francesco del Tadda had even carved them on a fountain in the Boboli garden. In Rome, however, they had become a delicacy divided into two types: the artichokes alla giudia, born in the Jewish ghetto, and the Roman-style artichokes. Not everyone liked them though: Ariosto wrote: “You find much thorns and bitterness more than goodies.”

But let’s go back to Via della Maddalena, that April 24, 1604.

The boy Pietro da Fusacca brings 4 artichokes cooked in oil and 4 in butter to Caravaggio. Which are the buttered ones and which are those deep-fried? Caravaggio asked the waiter to show them to him, as a man who knew the tables of the nobles. As a commoner who has known only taverns and dusty places, Pietro da Fusacca answers: “Smell them, and you will recognize them.”

Wrong answer! Caravaggio takes the plate with the artichokes and hurls it at the boy, shouting, “Who are you thinking to serve, some baron?” The shot hits Focaccia, another Pietro who was quietly eating on a nearby table. It is the beginning of a scuffle that involves various people, while Caravaggio, begins to chase the rude waiter, after removing the small-sword from a friend’s scabbard. But Fusacca manages to escape and calls the cops. The complaint is filed, the umpteenth for Caravaggio, who after an attack on a musician was defined as “a bad boy … with little black beard, fat, with thick eyelashes and black eyes, wearing black not too well in order that … has long hair on his face… “(cit. Luigi, son of a Roman barber).

Portrait of Caravaggio (Ottavio Leoni)

Caravaggio, however, cannot undergo another trial and probably pays a certain Pietro de Mandii from Piacenza, who swears that Merisi was right to react like this, since Pietro da Fusacca, to the question about the dressing, had replied by rubbing the artichokes under the nose.

Caravaggio eventually gets by and leaves Rome soon after. Meanwhile, from 1603 to 1606, he collected:

A libel trial, caused by some defamatory verses written against Giovanni Baglione, painter. He is imprisoned and then sentenced to house arrest
• Between May and October 1604 he was arrested for carrying illegal weapons and insulting the guards
• He has been sued for throwing artichokes
In 1605 he escaped to Genoa for 3 months: he seriously injured a notary of Accumoli, Mariano Pasqualone, because of a woman, Lena, lover of the painter (and not only, apparently …). The fact is covered up by his protectors
Again in 1605 his landlady, Prudenzia Bruni, sued him for not paying the rent. He reacts by stoning his windows. At the end of the year, he is wounded: he claims to have fallen on his sword

But it is in 1606 that his life changes. On May 28 he killed Ranuccio Tomassoni from Terni. Yes, Ranuccio friend (and probably protector) of Fillide Melandroni. The cause of the quarrel could have been Fillide, contended by both, even if the duel took place in the royal tennis, where they had gone to watch a game. There was also who talked about gambling debts and political issues: Ranuccio was pro-Spanish, Merisi was protected by the French.

For the murder of Campo Marzio, the law of the Pope – and therefore of God – condemned him to be beheaded: whoever met him would have had the right to cut off his head. At that time, Caravaggio’s works are full of take-offs.

Judith Beheading Holofernes (in which we can recognize the face of Fillide Melandroniand a self-portrait of Caravaggio)

Caravaggio, protected by the Colonna family, disappeared and indeed the potent Roman family creates an alibi for him.

The price to pay? He couldn’t see Rome again. He died 4 years later, just as he tried to repurchase his impunity and return to the Eternal City, nostalgic as he was of barrel, scuffles, whips, and artichokes. Everything, terribly Roman and Caravaggesque.


Commenta qui .....

This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)

Leave a Response

Pierluigi Capriotti
My name is Pierluigi Capriotti to be exact. Despite a degree in Architecture I'm a journalist. I write following temporary monomania and others that are chronic such reading, soccer, travels and food. When I write I use many asides – because I have the impression there is always something more to say. Because in those asides I talk about my passions. So that everybody will notice them but with nonchalance. I've never had a high regard for wisdom. And, thanks God, this helped me to leave for the foodiestrip journey with a spiritual-creative mathematician, an IT engineer who plays the Star Wars soundtrack with the coffee stirrers and a businessnerd. One way ticket. No return.