Listening to Art

03.08: Caravaggio, The Madonna of the Palafrenieri

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Listening to Art, by William Denton.

Volume three, number eight: The Madonna of the Palafrenieri by Caravaggio.

Hello, and welcome to Listening to Art. I’m William Denton.

This painting was done in early 1606 for the Palafrenieri, a particular group of papal servants at the Vatican, who commissioned Caravaggio to do an altarpiece. He delivered it on 08 April. The Palafrenieri did not like it, and by the middle of the month it was removed. By the middle of June it was sold to Scipione Borghese, in whose home, the Villa Borghese, the painting still hangs.

Before then, however, Caravaggio had fled Rome and would never return. He ran because he killed a man in a duel. I quote from Walter Friedlaender’s Caravaggio Studies (p. 130):

Van Mander tells us that Caravaggio went from one ball game to another and was always ready to draw his sword and engage in a brawl. On Sunday evening, May 29, 1606, in the Campo Marzio, near the palace of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Caravaggio was playing palla a corda—a kind of tennis—with his old friend Onorio Longhi, a certain Captain Antonio from Bologna who was stationed at the Castel’ Sant’ Angelo, and Ranuccio Tomassoni, a well-bred young gentleman from Terni. As frequently happens in such games, a quarrel arose over ten scudi which Ranuccio won from Caravaggio, and the two men came to blows with their rackets. As he later asserted, Onorio intervened and tried to reconcile the two opponents, but his efforts were in vain; they resorted to arms and fought a kind of duel in which Caravaggio received serious head wounds and Ranuccio was knocked down and killed. Caravaggio was seconded by the Captain Antonio, who was later arrested; Onorio was banished from Rome and went to Milan, whence he petitioned the Pope to allow him to return to his wife and five children. Caravaggio escaped and found temporary refuge in the house of a certain Andrea Ruffetti near the Piazza Colonna where a clerk of the Criminal Court (notaio de’Malefizi) visited him while he was still in bed recovering from his wounds. When the clerk asked him who had wounded him so severely in the throat and on the left ear, he replied that he had fallen down in the street, wounded himself with his sword, and that no one had been present…. On the very next day after the visit … a news-report (avviso), dated May 31, related the whole affair with the remark that Caravaggio’s whereabouts were unknown.

This is a painting, oil on canvas, 211 cm wide by 292 cm high.

Now let’s listen to The Madonna of the Palafrenieri by Caravaggio, recorded at the Galleria Borghese, in Rome, on 30 May 2018.

Waveform of the field recording.

That was The Madonna of the Palafrenieri by Caravaggio. I hope you enjoyed listening to it as much as I did.

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All web sites accessed as of date of publication.

Friedlaender, Walter. Caravaggio Studies. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1974.

Galleria Borghese. “Galleria Borghese.” Galleria Borghese.

Wikipedia, s.v. “Caravaggio,”

⸻, s.v. “Madonna and Child with St. Anne (Dei Palafrenieri),”