Where To See Caravaggio’s Paintings In Rome

Born Michelangelo Merisi in 1571 in the small town of Caravaggio near Milan, Caravaggio is one of Italy’s most important and influential painters. He came to Rome in his early 20s, in extreme poverty, but was soon noticed by rich patrons and commissioned to paint works for the city’s churches and chapels. Characterized by a dramatic use of chiaroscuro, his paintings portrayed religious scenes in a realistic manner, a bold departure from the artists who had come before him. He even used real-life acquaintances, including prostitutes and love interests, as models for his works.

Caravaggio’s personal life was equally controversial. Known for his love of drinking and gambling, he was often involved in brawls and in 1606 he killed a man during a street fight – and was forced to flee Rome. During exile, he continued to work on commissions in Naples, Malta, and Sicily until news of his death reached Rome in 1610. The exact circumstances of Caravaggio’s death remain a mystery but scholars have put forward multiple theories including syphilis, sepsis, and lead poisoning.

Though his time in Rome was brief, Caravaggio worked at great speed and created a number of paintings that remain in situ, still hanging in the churches for which they were originally commissioned. Other works were purchased by popes and nobles and now hang in the city’s galleries and museums. So, if you’re an art appreciator heading to the Eternal City, these nine places should be on your list.

© Frederick Fenyvessy/Flickr

Santa Maria del Popolo

This church in Piazza del Popolo houses two paintings by Caravaggio: the Crucifixion of Saint Peter and the Conversion of Saint Paul. Like many church artworks in Italy, you’ll need to slot a coin into a machine to light up the paintings (and contribute towards the upkeep of the church). Though, originally, they would have only been seen by candlelight. As well as examining the unusual positions the saints are portrayed in, take a moment to consider how Caravaggio used perspective to compensate for the position of the canvases, on the side walls of the chapel – both paintings retain their artistic appeal, even when viewed from such a wide angle.

© Miwok/Flickr

San Luigi dei Francesi

Three Caravaggio paintings hang in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi, near Piazza Navona, all depicting moments in the life of Saint Matthew. The Calling of St. Matthew shows Christ appearing in front of his soon-to-be disciple for the first time and is set in a dimly lit space which could be an office or a tavern, depending on the eye of the beholder. In the Inspiration of St. Matthew, an angel looms over the saint, guiding him in his works. The final piece, the Martyrdom of St. Matthew, shows a sprawl of figures involved in the saint’s death.

Chiesa di Sant’Agostino

When Caravaggio unveiled his Madonna of Loreto in 1606, church officials were shocked by his interpretation of the Virgin Mary. Standing barefoot in her crumbling doorway, this wasn’t the usual representation of purity and Christianity – and nor were the two dirty pilgrims at her feet.

Galleria Borghese

With seven Caravaggio paintings gracing the walls, Galleria Borghese holds Rome’s largest collection of works by the Baroque master. Boy with a Basket of Fruit (thought to be a self-portrait), St. Jerome, Sick Bacchus, John the Baptist, Portrait of Pope Paul V, Madonna of the Palafrenieri, and David with the Head of Goliath, in which Caravaggio used his own image in the face of the decapitated giant. Tickets by advance booking only.

Capitoline Museums

Two of Caravaggio’s works can be seen in the Capitoline Museums, alongside other masterpieces from by Titian, Tintoretto, and Rubens. Look closely at The Fortune Teller and you’ll see the girl reading the boy’s palm is also slipping the ring off his finger. In John the Baptist a youthful John is playfully reclining, one arm around a ram’s neck.

Galleria Doria Pamphilj

John the Baptist was a popular subject with Caravaggio who painted the character numerous times, including the copy now located in the Doria Pamphiji Gallery on Via del Corso. The Penitent Magdalene and Rest on the Flight Into Egypt are also housed here.

Vatican Museums

The Entombment of Christ was originally painted for the Santa Maria in Vallicella church in Rome’s historic center but now sits in the Vatican Museums across town. The scene shows Christ’s followers in various stages of mourning as they place his lifeless body into his tomb.

Palazzo Barberini

Caravaggio’s gory Judith Beheading Holofernes has inspired numerous artists including Francisco de Goya and Artemisia Gentileschi, who both created their own versions of the scene. Caravaggio’s version sits in Palazzo Barberini alongside his Narcissus and St. Francis in Meditation.

Palazzo Corsini

Another depiction of John the Baptist hangs in Palazzo Corsini in the Trastevere neighborhood. This version shows John in a moment of repose, stripped of his usual identifying symbols and with the sunburnt hands and neck of a labourer.

Unique Souvenirs You Can Only Pick Up in Rome

Souvenirs are easy to come by in Rome. Get within close proximity of any major tourist attraction and you’ll see stalls flogging Colosseum keyrings, Italia tea towels, and bags of novelty pasta. You know, the kind of stuff nobody actually wants. Thankfully, there are also artisans, craftsmen, and independent boutiques offering unique gifts and souvenirs to remind you of your time in the Eternal City. Here are some of our favorite Rome mementos and where to find them.

 © La Bottega del Marmoraro

Marble Plaques

A walk along Via Margutta is like a walk back in time and nowhere is this truer than at La Bottega del Marmoraro, a hole-in-the-wall workshop selling engraved marble plaques, tablets, and statuettes. The tiny shop is filled to bursting with pieces made by marble worker Sandro Fiorentini, which are inscribed with classic Italian and Latin phrases such as ‘la dolce vita’, ‘carpe diem’, and ‘veni, vidi, vici’, as well as jokes and quips using modern slang. Pre-made plaques start at €10 and personalized pieces from €15.

© Saddlers Union

Leather Goods

Italy has long been famous for the quality of its leather goods and the sheer range of items on offer, from passport holders and purses to handbags and jackets, means there’s usually something for everyone’s price point. For luggage, bags, belts, and wallets in a classic style, we love Mancini, located just a few steps from the Pantheon. This family business has been hand making accessories for Rome’s well-heeled crowd since 1918. For something a little edgier, head to Saddlers Union on Via Margutta. The brand was originally a hit in the 50s and counted Jackie Kennedy and Audrey Hepburn as clients. In 2009, it was revamped and many of the classic designs given a modern makeover. Their signature bucket bag remains a bestseller, but is now joined by studded shoulder bags, bright clutches, and monogrammed cuffs and chokers.

© Ronnie R/Flickr

Pope Socks

No, these aren’t gimmicky garments adorned with an image of His Holiness but the actual socks that the pope wears. As such, they’re made of quality fabric (Cotton Lisle or soft merino wool) and come from the Gammarelli shop, just behind the Pantheon. This family owned tailors specializes in ecclesiastic clothing and has been dressing popes, cardinals, and bishops since 1798. All kinds of religious garb like cassocks, robes, and skullcaps are available but we think a pair of the pope’s favorite red socks make a great gift for any man, religious or not.

© Co.Ro.

Italian Architectural Jewelry

Established in 2012, Co.Ro. is a gorgeous boutique in the heart of the historic center selling handcrafted jewelry inspired by the architecture of the city. While the idea might sound like a novelty, the owners, both architects, have created a brand that is elegant and original and the pieces sit on the right side of quirky. We love the sterling silver Gasometro cuff, inspired by Ostiense’s iconic industrial landmark, and the Square Colosseum pendant, which takes its cue from the Palazzo della Civiltá in EUR.

© Trevimage

Original Artwork

An original painting or photographic print of Rome’s charming streets makes the perfect holiday memento and you’ll find local artists selling their creations in a number of spots across town. Just around the corner from the Trevi Fountain is the compact but charming Trevimage. This photography shop sells beautiful snapshots of Rome at reasonable prices. Owner and photographer Carlo De Gori is usually on hand to tell the story behind each shot and help customers find a piece they’ll admire for years to come.

Rome’s Best Wine Bars

Drinking wine in Italy is practically a birthright – well, they are the world’s largest producer of the stuff – and the capital has many charming enotecas where you can sit and sip. We love these spots in particular for their attentive label selections, knowledgeable staff, and relaxing atmosphere. Raise a glass with us to the best wine bars in Rome.

 

Brylla

Located in the Trieste area of Rome, Brylla is well worth the trip outside the centro storico. This modern wine bar opened in 2016 with a unique selling point: every one of the more than 150 wines can be ordered by the glass thanks to Coravin, a new design of bottle opener that allows wine to be poured through a tiny hole in the cork, which is then resealed. With no wastage from spoiled, only half-empty bottles, Brylla can offer guests absolute choice from wines at any price point, including the most prestigious vintages.

© Brylla

Il Goccetto

Possibly Rome’s most famous wine bar thanks to its gorgeous vintage ‘Vino e Olio’ sign outside, Il Goccetto is well known among locals and tourists in the know. Its strategic location in the historic centre means it can get busy so be prepared to wait at peak times or just congregate on the street outside, drink in hand. There’s ample choice of wines by the glass, starting at just a few euros, and an extensive selection of labels available by the bottle – just check out the collection lining the walls for inspiration. A small menu of meats, cheeses, and other delicious snacks, provide the perfect accompaniment to your tipple.

 

Litro

This pretty spot in the residential neighborhood of Monteverde specializes in natural and biodynamic wines from across Italy. The cellar is stocked with interesting choices that go beyond the usual red and white, and into rosé (which, actually, is not always well represented in Italian wine bars) and even orange wines. Don’t be afraid to ask the staff for recommendations either – they’re passionate about what they do and happy to find the perfect match for your tastes. Litro also offers a small but exceptional food menu.

© Litro

Ai Tre Scalini

Ai Tre Scalini has been an institution in the Monti neighborhood since 1895. This rustic bottiglieria is frequented by a laid-back, artsy crowd who love the informal atmosphere as well as the extensive Italian wine list. There’s also a selection of craft beers, both on tap and bottled, from some of the peninsula’s best microbreweries. Pair your drink with light bites, such as olives or lupin beans, or dive into a generous platter of cured meats and artisanal cheeses.

© Ai Tre Scalini

 

Enoteca Ferrara

If you want to whet your whistle, Enoteca Ferrara is the place to do it. Their wine list is less flimsy pamplet and more hardback, two-volume novel. With over 1600 labels to choose from, even the most knowledgeable enophile will discover something new. If that’s too much choice, let the sommelier select a bottle for you – there’s labels for every taste and budget. Not just a wine bar with an impressive collection of bottles, Enoteca Ferrara is also an elegant restaurant, traditional osteria, and birreria, making this locale a great choice for any occasion.

 

Rimessa Roscioli

The Roscioli brand is well known in Rome for its restaurant and historic bakery, both located in one of the most beautiful parts of the city centre. In recent years, they’ve added to their empire with a coffee shop and a wine bar. Rimessa Roscioli focuses on accessible wine tastings, showcasing not just the best Italian vini but the production techniques, history and culture that goes into every glass. Tasting sessions should be booked online in advance but you can also stop by without a reservation for a glass or two at any time.

© Rimessa Roscioli

Looking for more experiences in Rome? Check out our culture tours, cooking classes and art workshops here.

Rome for Literary Lovers

“Oh Rome! my country! city of the soul!” – Lord Byron.

Rome has been inspiring people to put pen to paper for millennia. As well as producing its own homegrown talent, the Eternal City has also attracted writers, poets, and other creative types from around the world. Here, we take a look at some of the city’s most celebrated literary figures and the sites they frequented during their time here.

The Keats-Shelley House seen from the Spanish Steps © HarshLight/Flickr

Keats-Shelley Memorial House

Romantic poet John Keats came to Rome in 1820, hoping to improve his ailing health with a dose of Italian sunshine. Unfortunately, his health didn’t improve and he died of tuberculosis just a few short months later, at the age of 25. The house he rented at number 26 Piazza di Spagna is now a museum, housing artefacts from not just the poet’s life but the life of friend and fellow Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. The museum itself is modest in size but boasts an extensive collection of books, memorabilia, letters, manuscripts and paintings relating to the pair. Keats’ death mask and a replica of the bed he died in are especially evocative pieces.

Antico Caffé Greco © Richard, enjoy my life!/Flickr

Antico Caffé Greco

The area around the Spanish Steps was once so popular with well-heeled travelers  (including those on the Grand Tour), it earned the nickname the English Quarter, or even the English Ghetto. The area’s meeting point was Antico Caffé Greco on Via dei Condotti. Now Rome’s oldest coffee shop, Antico Caffé Greco opened in 1760 and provided caffeine hits to literary figures such as Stendhal, Goethe, Byron, Hans Christian Anderson, Mark Twain, and, of course, Keats. With its marble-top tables, red velvet chairs, and gold-framed artworks, the coffee shop has retained its period feel and is the perfect spot to sip a cappuccino and, if inspiration hits, pen a few lines.

Non-Catholic Cemetery © Massimiliano Calamelli/Flickr

Non-Catholic Cemetery/Protestant Cemetery

Tucked behind an ancient Egyptian-style pyramid and a section of the Aurelian walls is the Non-Catholic Cemetery of Rome. The verdant enclosure is a welcome relief from the chaos of the busy streets outside and is the final resting place of both Keats and Shelley. Over the years, the cemetery has filled with the graves of writers, scholars, painters and other travelers who found inspiration in the city. The maze of headstones and funerary sculptures is interspersed with cypress trees, perfectly pruned hedgerows, and the occasional lounging cat.

Casa di Goethe on Via del Corso © Tom86/WikiCommons

Casa di Goethe

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was a German statesman and writer of novels, poetry, drama, and scientific treatises, to name just a few of his many disciplines. From 1786 to 1788 he journeyed throughout the Italian peninsula and was especially inspired by the south, writing “To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is to not have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the clue to everything.” His diary entries would later form the basis of Italian Journey, his post-travel report on the bel paese. His time in Rome was brief – just three months – but the house where he stayed on Via del Corso is now a museum dedicated to the cultural impact of his work. In addition to letters, diary entries, and other original documents of Goethe’s, the collection includes drawings and sketches by painter (and housemate) Johann Wilhelm Tischbein. The most famous portrayal of Goethe – and the multicolored jewel of the exhibit – is the flashy screenprint by Andy Warhol in the museum’s permanent collection.

Looking for accommodation near Rome’s literary sites? Our Grazia Family Home and Spanish Steps Terrace are within walking distance of the Keats-Shelley Memorial House, Antico Caffé Greco, and the Casa di Goethe while the Non-Catholic Cemetery is just a short metro journey away.