Ranuccio Tomassoni: Who Was He? Why did Caravaggio Kill Him?

If there’s one thing absolutely nobody can deny, it’s that Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (or simply Caravaggio) was one of the most influential Baroque-style Italian painters of all time. However, as clearly indicated in Netflix’s ‘Ripley,’ he was also a murderer — he’d actually slain 26-year-old Ranuccio Tomassoni right on a tennis court in Rome four years prior to his own demise. Though while the circumstances surrounding the creator’s sudden death remain rather unclear to this day, there are some hard facts about the actual 1606 homicide that are publicly known.

Ranuccio Tomassoni Was an Ill Reputed Pimp

It was around 1580 when Ranuccio was born to a homemaker and a career soldier in Terni, Italy, only to ultimately settle down in Rome as the entire family relocated in the late 16th century. That’s when the Tomassonis reportedly built strong connections with the noble Farnese family as well as the similarly significant Aldobrandini family to become a socially respected clan too. However, their business was that of high-class prostitution and pimping, which the aforementioned managed alone on all their behalves, leading to him having quite a damaging public standing.

Ranuccio was thus also the one who’d hired the already popular street prostitute Fillide Melandroni for this family enterprise, unaware it would soon lead him to come in contact with Caravaggio. As per records, this prima donna’s relationship with her handler in the early 1600s could’ve been more than professional, as implied by the fact she’d once tried to kill a woman she’d found in his bed. Yet this snap action of hers can also be explained by her innate fear of losing her position in the Tomassoni agency, especially since there was a lot of competition to be the “favorite” at the time.

Coming to Ranuccio and Fillide’s link with Caravaggio, it began around 160 3 after nobleman-poet Giulio Strozzi commissioned a portrait of hers from the latter upon falling deep into her charm. Records suggest there was probably a love affair involved here, too, resulting in a long-smoldering animosity between the painter and the pimp as they subsequently vied for her affections. Then came May 28, 1606, when the artist ended up killing his rival by castrating him through an artery in his groin — yet it has been suggested this was accidental; the intention was not to kill.

The Reason Caravaggio Slew Ranuccio is Unclear

While many believe Caravaggio and Ranuccio engaged in a formal duel on a tennis court on the fateful evening over Fillide owing to everything stated above, others claim it was over politics. This second assertion actually stems from the fact that while the former was a client of the French Ambassador, the latter and his family were pro-Spanish to such an extent their beliefs were world-known. Plus, it’s imperative to note this same uncertainty hangs over whether the painter’s actions towards the pimp were deliberate or not, meaning it’s murky if there was a murder or if an aimed castration went wrong and inadvertently led to death.

According to records, two of Ranuccio’s brothers-in-law were his seconds in the duel against Caravaggio, which arguably gives a lot of credence to the hypothesis of personal bond involvements. Moreover, per author Andrew Graham-Dixon, “particular wounds in Roman street fights meant particular things. If a man insulted another man’s reputation, he might have his face cut. If a man insulted a man’s woman, he would get his penis cut off. “Caravaggio was hence convicted of murder in absentia before being handed down capital punishment, wherein anyone in the Papal States had a right to kill him with impunity in exchange for a reward.

Nevertheless, the artist had fled Rome by this point, moving between Naples, Malta, as well as Sicily for the ensuing four years, that is, until his own sudden, unecpected death on July 18, 1610. It was long assumed Caravaggio had died from syphilis at the age of 38 since he had a fever around the time, yet it could’ve also been malaria or brucellosis from unpasteurized dairy while on the lam. On the other hand, there are several who believe he was actually murdered by members of the Tomassoni family, Royal Knights, or some other enemies in cold-blooded revenge for his actions.

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