On the Trail of Caravaggio

How far would you go to save a painting? One of the people we’ll meet on our upcoming trip The First Modern Artist: Caravaggio in Rome and Malta found himself facing that very question.

In December 1984, three men disguised as workers stole the painting St. Jerome Writing from St. John’s Co-Cathedral in the Maltese capital of Valletta. Their main interest was not the Caravaggio masterpiece itself, but the money they could get for it. Not surprisingly, however, finding a buyer for such a famous piece of stolen art was difficult. The thieves eventually decided to ransom the painting back to the cathedral and set a plot in motion by giving a Polaroid of the painting in its hiding place to art historian and Dominican priest Marius Zerafa.

St. Jerome Writing, c. 1607-08

Zerafa’s boss, the bishop, was not interested in paying up. But for Zerafa, there was no question of giving up. With some help from a retried Carabinieri detective, he launched into his own investigation.

How did it all turn out? Hear from Father Zerafa yourself when we visit him in Valletta. He’ll be giving us an exclusive presentation on his involvement in recovering St. Jerome Writing. His dramatic story is one of many episodes in a long, eventful life dedicated to art and teaching: Father Zerafa is former Director of Museums in Malta and the creator of Malta’s National Museum of Fine Arts. We look forward to meeting him!

And in Rome, another top-notch art historian will help us understand both the particular innovations of Caravaggio and the broader context of 16th-century painting. Sara Magister is a guide and historian with more than 20 years’ experience at institutions such as the Vatican Museums, the French Academy in Rome, and many others. She’s the author of ground-breaking research on Caravaggio, mostly recently a book that offers new interpretations of some of the painter’s most famous works based on philological data. She will be joining us for three exclusive presentations and in-depth visits to key sites.

Fountain in the Borghese gardens

Get an unmatched look into the life and work of Caravaggio. Having a full week in Rome will allow us to dig in deep, and enjoy this spread-out city at a relaxed pace. One area we’ll focus on is the Borghese Gallery, which houses the largest collection of Caravaggio paintings in any one place. The Gallery is home to the many pieces from the collection Cardinal Scipione Borghese, a patron of Caravaggio. Our hotel is just a 10-minute walk from the Borghese gardens, Rome’s largest public park and and a terrific place to be in May.

Pasta alla carbonara

There will also be time to enjoy Roman cuisine. In the Testaccio neighbourhood, traditionally home to Rome’s butchers, enjoy a classic cacio e pepe or carbonara, or even a coda alla vaccinara (oxtail stew) with a glass of crisp Trebbiano or Malvasia from the Lazio region. And join host Melanie Blake as she seeks out the most memorable gelato flavour she’s tasted in Rome: chocolate and tobacco.

Our trip will be a fun, relaxing and intriguing way to get back into international travel. Join us May 15-25 for The First Modern Artist: Caravaggio in Rome and Malta.



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