The most famous artist who worked in Malta has to be Michelangelo Merisi (1571-1610), known as Caravaggio. His ‘Beheading of St. John the Baptist’, a work once described as ‘the painting of the 17th century’ was commissioned for, and is still on display in, the Oratory of the Co-Cathedral of St. John, Valletta. Another of his most famous works, St. Jerome, is also in the cathedral.
Together, these works represent a key period in the development of this unorthodox artist. His style, with its powerful use of shadow and shafts of light (chiaroscuro), created an almost choreographed drama with the subject; a technique which broke with the tradition of religious painting.
Caravaggio arrived in Malta in 1607 in rather dubious circumstances having fled Rome to avoid justice. He was wanted for murder.
However, in Malta, under his new patrons, he was feted and admitted to the Order of St. John. But his freedom from justice lasted only just over a year. He was imprisoned in Fort St. Angelo and later escaped to Sicily, only to die two years later at the age of 38 still hounded by the forces of justice.