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Caravaggio May Have Died of Infected Sword Wound, Not Syphilis

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tags: syphilis, Caravaggio



Historical records suggest Caravaggio had a mercurial temper, to say the least—BBC News’ David Willey writes that the Italian painter, born Michelangelo Merisi in 1571, once threw a plate at a waiter who declined to point out which of the artichokes he was serving were fried in butter rather than oil.

But as Alex Vicente reports for Spanish newspaper El País, researchers have long believed Caravaggio’s untimely death at the age of 38 was precipitated by relatively mundane health problems—namely sunstroke contracted while weakened by syphilis. New research published in Lancet Infectious Diseases, however, offers a different take on the Italian painter’s demise, suggesting he fell victim to a staph infection incurred during a swordfight.

Daniela Filipe of Portuguese newspaper Público reports that a team of seven French and Italian scientists affiliated with the Mediterranean University Hospital of Marseille (IHU) analyzed the blood vessel-filled dental pulp of Caravaggio’s molars through a combination of DNA detection and protein sampling. The researchers looked for signs of syphilis, malaria or brucellosis—three infections commonly cited as potential culprits behind the artist’s death—but found none. Instead, as Alex Berezow explains for the American Council on Science and Health, the team concluded that Caravaggio died of sepsis, or blood infection, triggered by golden staph.

Read entire article at Smithsonian

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