Cardinal del Monte, Caravaggio and the Catamites

Francesco Maria Bourbon Del Monte Santa Maria was a worldly man of sophisticated taste, created Cardinal in 1588, he was a respected diplomat with aspirations to the Throne of St. Peter. Given the Bourbon connection and his pro French sympathies, the Spanish vote would quash such aspirations. That is perhaps just as well,for there are so many popes, they all seem to run together, even for this manic (Renaissance/humanist) papal sympathizer.   The good Cardinal is best known for his promotion of Caravaggio, in particular  securing the commission to decorate the Contarelli Chapel. The tenebristic masterwork ,The Calling of St. Matthew (in addition to The Inspiration of St.Matthew and The Martyrdom of St. Matthew )  mandates we offer gratitude to Cardinal del Monte for making such fine use of his power and influence.

Thank you Cardinal.

Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte

b. 5th of July 1547

d. 27th of August 1627

portrait by Ottavio Leoni, 1616


The Calling of St. Matthew


oil in canvas

Contarelli Chapel

When I look closely at this marvelous painting , I am frankly drawn to the strange cast of characters this unscrupulous tax collector has surrounded himself with. Soon enough good Matthew will reject worldliness for Our Lord, but Caravaggio captures this moment of revelation with Matthew surrounded by penny pinching money grubbers and  young men/ boys in rakish peacock-ery.

This taste for plumed boys with slashed sleeves seems to reflect the taste of Caravaggio and his patron, rather then the dear Saint.

We will see these boys time and again, with or without their flamboyant finery, in Caravaggio’s work in general and in particular within Cardinal del Monte’s collection. The Metropolitan Museum of Art , which holds The Musicians informs us that Cardinal del Monte’s collection held a number of paintings that suggest a taste less then chaste. Although the Met makes quite a point that these suggestive paintings do not indicate untoward sexual taste; to this dilettantish observer they incriminate just a wee bit.

The most famous, and beautiful painting within del Monte’s collection was the aforementioned Musicians.

The Musicians


Metropolitan Museum of Art

In addition to the band of musical boys we have,

The Lute Player


Hermitage Museum

The Cardsharps


Kimbell Art Museum

The Fortune Teller


Pinacoteca Capitolina,Rome

The cast of characters within this collection is consistent, I have read the boys who served as models may have been part of the Cardinal’s domestic household. Whether street urchin or livery boy they proved fetching to dear Caravaggio and the Cardinal.

Caravaggio would of course go on to paint a slew of moody marvels, but he returned to the Ephebes from time to time; often as the sainted Baptist, with or without that itchy fur loincloth.

John in the Wilderness


St. John the Baptist


The following has always creeped me out a bit, a bit too nude, too young, too frankly sexual. The ram just a bit too lusty.

St John the Baptist ( Youth with Ram)


Pinacoteca Capitoline

Somehow Caravaggio manages to sex up blessed Francis,

St. Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy


Valiant David receives the Caravaggio treatment as well,

David with the Head of Goliath


It is often noted how fond Caravaggio was of inserting his own gnarly visage into his work, perhaps this is our Michelangelo vanquished by his appetites.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio

b. 29 September 1571

d. 18 July 1610 (38!)

portrait by Ottavio Leoni 1621

Until next time,

respectfully submitted,

Babylon Baroque


8 Responses to “Cardinal del Monte, Caravaggio and the Catamites”

  1. Wonderful post. If you haven’t already read it, may I recommend Helen Langdon’s excellent “Caravaggio–A Life”? Also, you may enjoy the work of Czech artist, Jiri Anderle (contemporary) who explores in many of his fine works the relationship between the renaissance and contemporary society by re-working/imaging the works of such artists as Caravaggio. I always enjoy your posts, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • babylonbaroque Says:

      I will certainly look for Langdon’s book.
      Thank you for the Jiri tip, wonderful work.
      I am eager to spend more time on posts (and painting hopefully) this summer. I will visit your blog more often,
      Take care,

  2. Interesting. I have always thought of Caravaggio as more of a muscular artist, that aesthetic. There is something in his work that seems to celebrate the senses and the real world around him. I love all of the ‘real’ characters in his paintings. Have you ever seen Derek Jarman’s Caravaggio? Although dramatically arty, it is still a feast for the eyes, I am guessing that you might enjoy it.

    • babylonbaroque Says:

      He was “muscular”, i think even his pretty boys are “muscular” in their demeanor if not actual form. I think that is Caravaggio’s greatness.
      I must also confess a lack of appreciation for much of Caravaggio, I am more of a Poissiniste, agreeing somewhat with Poissin that “Caravaggio had come into the world to destroy painting’
      I can’t really agree with that whole heartedly but I can understand what he felt. Contrary to popular tastes I prefer my saints to have manicured feet, Caravaggio ruined that.
      I have seen the Jarman film, i remember it was beautiful, but that is all, will need to revisit his work.
      As usual very happy to hear from you.
      I am off this summer, save for some private lessons, I will stay in touch,
      take care friend,

  3. Wonderful post! The Jarman film immediately comes to mind, but that probably says more about me than anything else

    By the way, I’ve closed the Chateau and started up a new, smaller yet more pretentious blog. Feel free to stop by!

    • (

    • babylonbaroque Says:

      Well I am sorry to see the Chateau abandoned, but I can sympathize; turn in that cumbersome chatelaine and move on.
      I checked out your new blog, i see I am going to enjoy it as much if not more then Chateau Thpmbeau.
      Thank you for your thoughts, always happy to hear from you.

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