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Caravaggio painted with fireflies

It is well known that Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio has always been an experimenter and an innovator, but few know that he used fireflies to paint.


The great painter was interested in light, its potential and its power. In his experiments with him it seems that he mixed a fluorescent material with white lead, the distillate of fireflies, which allowed him to paint in the dark with brushstrokes of fluorescent, luminous white.


The fascinating hypotheses come from an Italian scholar, the restorer and art historian Roberta Lapucci who has conducted very interesting studies on the artist's canvases, revealing many secrets ...


For example the traces of photosensitive materials such as arsenic, silver, sulfur, magnesium and iodine which testify the use of chemicals by the painter to obtain greater brightness in the paintings.


Caravaggio was therefore not only a painter, but a man who constantly researched, and conducted investigations to improve, to know and to raise the efficiency and impact of his art.


His interests and his experiments on optical phenomena are also known. He even managed to transform his studio into a sort of giant optical camera by making a hole in the ceiling from which the light penetrated and then, through a concave mirror and a biconvex lens, projected the image of the posed subject onto the canvas.

But he didn't stop there.


In fact, the novelties regarding Merisi's painting techniques do not end with the use of firefly distillate alone. In his last years Caravaggio, given his condition as a fugitive, chooses materials that tend to dry quickly, stops copying from life and uses models already used previously. The last Caravaggio made "extensive use of mummy brown, a pigment produced by the combustion of animal flesh, mixed with resins, and used by the fossors (workers specialized in burial) in some phases of the conservation of corpses.


Through these mysterious and audacious aspects, Caravaggio's painting and his exploits are even more fascinating and inspiring for me.

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