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Caravaggio (1986 film)

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Directed byDerek Jarman
Screenplay byDerek Jarman
Suso Cecchi d'Amico
Nicholas Ward-Jackson
Story byNicholas Ward-Jackson
Produced bySarah Radclyffe
StarringNigel Terry
Sean Bean
Tilda Swinton
CinematographyGabriel Beristain
Edited byGeorge Akers
Music bySimon Fisher-Turner
Distributed byCinevista (USA)
Umbrella Entertainment (AUS)
Release date
  • 29 August 1986 (1986-08-29) (U.S.)
Running time
93 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget£450,000[1] or £475,000[2]
Box office£240,000 (UK)[2]

Caravaggio is a 1986 British historical drama film directed by Derek Jarman. The film is a fictionalised retelling of the life of Baroque painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. It is Tilda Swinton's film debut.


Told in a segmented fashion, the film opens as Caravaggio dies from lead poisoning while in exile, with only his long-time, mute companion Jerusaleme, who was given by his family to the artist as a boy, by his side. Caravaggio thinks back to his life as a teenage street ruffian who hustles and paints. While taken ill and in the care of priests, young Caravaggio catches the eye of Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte. The Cardinal nurtures Caravaggio's artistic and intellectual development but seems to molest him.

As an adult, Caravaggio still lives under the roof of, and paints with the funding of, Del Monte. Caravaggio is shown employing street people, drunks and prostitutes as models for his intense, usually religious paintings. He is depicted as frequently brawling, gambling, getting drunk and is implied to sleep with both male and female models. In the art world, Caravaggio is regarded as vulgar and entitled for his Vatican connections.

One day, Ranuccio, a street fighter for pay, catches Caravaggio's eye as a subject and potential lover. Ranuccio also introduces Caravaggio to his girlfriend Lena, who also becomes an object of attraction and a model to the artist. When both Ranuccio and Lena are separately caught kissing Caravaggio, each displays jealousy over the artist's attentions. One day, Lena announces she is pregnant without stating who the father is and will become a mistress to the wealthy Scipione Borghese. Soon, she is found murdered by drowning. Ranuccio weeps as Caravaggio and Jerusaleme clean Lena's body. Caravaggio is shown painting Lena after she dies and mournfully writhing with her body. Ranuccio is arrested for Lena's murder, but he claims to be innocent. Caravaggio pulls strings and goes to the pope to free Ranuccio. When Ranuccio is freed, he tells Caravaggio he killed Lena so they could be together. In response, Caravaggio cuts Ranuccio's throat, killing him. Back on his deathbed, Caravaggio is shown having visions of himself as a boy and trying to refuse the last rites offered him by the priests.



Set design[edit]

In keeping with Caravaggio's use of contemporary dress for his Biblical figures, Jarman intentionally includes several anachronisms in the film that do not fit with Caravaggio's life in the 16th century. In one scene, Caravaggio is in a bar lit with electric lights. Another character is seen using an electronic calculator. Car horns are heard honking outside Caravaggio's studio, and in one scene, Caravaggio is seen leaning on a green truck. Cigarette smoking, a motorbike, and the use of a manual typewriter also featured in the film.[citation needed]

Production design[edit]

The production designer was Christopher Hobbs who was also responsible for the copies of Caravaggio paintings seen in the film.[3]

Details and awards[edit]

Caravaggio was Jarman's first project with Tilda Swinton, and it was her first film role. The cook Jennifer Paterson was an extra. The film was entered into the 36th Berlin International Film Festival where it won the Silver Bear for an outstanding single achievement.[4]

Home media[edit]

Caravaggio was released on DVD by Umbrella Entertainment in July 2008. The DVD is compatible with all region codes and includes special features such as the trailer, a gallery of production designs and storyboards, feature commentary by Gabriel Berestain, an interview with Christopher Hobbs titled Italy of the Memory, and interviews with Tilda Swinton, Derek Jarman, Nigel Terry.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Verging on the respectable." Sunday Times [London, England] 20 Apr. 1986: 45. The Sunday Times Digital Archive. Web. 8 Apr. 2014.
  2. ^ a b "Back to the Future: The Fall and Rise of the British Film Industry in the 1980s - An Information Briefing" (PDF). British Film Institute. 2005. p. 20.
  3. ^ "Christopher Hobbs obituary". The Guardian. 19 March 2024. Retrieved 19 March 2024.
  4. ^ "Berlinale: 1986 Prize Winners". berlinale.de. Archived from the original on 22 March 2016. Retrieved 15 January 2011.
  5. ^ "Umbrella Entertainment". Archived from the original on 18 May 2014. Retrieved 17 May 2013.

External links[edit]