No city has more Caravaggio paintings than Rome — some are in private collections but most are displayed in museums and galleries or may be seen for free in churches.
Rome is the easiest city in the world to see paintings by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. At least 26 of Caravaggio’s known surviving paintings are in Rome with 20 on public display in churches, museums, and private collections open to the general public. Six large altar paintings by Caravaggio may be seen for free in their original positions in three churches in Rome. The Borghese Gallery has with six paintings the largest single collection of Caravaggio works in the world. The Palazzos Barberini and Corsini have four paintings, the private Doria Pamphilj Gallery has two, while the Capitoline and Vatican museums have one each.
Caravaggio Paintings in Rome
The Baroque artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1619) remains one of the most popular painters ever. He started his career painting mostly flowers and fruit but progressed to large altarpieces of biblical scenes, portraits, and borderline erotic portrayals of Amor (Eros / Cupid) and a young St John the Baptist.
Estimates of the number of paintings by Caravaggio that survived to the present range from as low as 40 to well over 80. These estimates exclude sketches and unfinished works.
Caravaggio’s paintings are spread all over the world — around half are on public display in museums and churches but many are hidden away in private collections. Fewer than 10 are on permanent display in the USA (four in the Metropolitan Museum in New York). Most of Caravaggio’s work is still in Italy with at least 26 generally acknowledged Caravaggio paintings in Rome.
Where to See Caravaggio Paintings in Rome
Paintings by Caravaggio may be seen in Rome in three centrally located churches, the Borghese Gallery (six paintings), and further museums:
Churches in Rome with Caravaggio Paintings
Three churches in the heart of tourist Rome have Caravaggio paintings still in their original positions. These are the easiest of his works to see as admission is free (some coins may be needed to switch on the lights) and opening hours are long (although most churches close for lunch):
Matthew Cycle in San Luigi Dei Francesi Church
Three of the most famous Caravaggio paintings in Rome are in the Contarelli Chapel of the San Luigi dei Francesi church near the Pantheon (no longer free!). This cycle on the life of Saint Matthew included the first altar painting and major public commission for Caravaggio, which helped to establish him as one of Rome’s foremost artists in the early 17th century. The paintings are:
- The Calling of Saint Matthew, c. 1600,
- The Inspiration of Saint Matthew, c. 1600, and
- The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew, 1602.
Carravagios in the Cerasi Chapel of Santa Maria del Popolo
Following his success with St Matthew, Caravaggio was commissioned to paint two large paintings for the Cerasi Chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo:
- Conversion of Saint Paul, 1601, and
- Crucifixion of St Peter, 1601.
Pilgrim’s Madonna in Sant’Agostino
Caravaggio’s Madonna of Loreto, also Pilgrim’s Madonna (Madonna dei Pellegrini), c. 1604, in Sant’Agostino is the only of his altar paintings in Rome with a female. It caused a scandal — not because of nudity but rather his portrayal of the Virgin as a normal woman in rather plain surroundings. The dirty clothes and feet of the pilgrims were also not appreciated at its unveiling.
Caravaggio Paintings in Museums in Rome
Caravaggio paintings are easy to see in the Borghese Gallery and a few further public and private museums in Rome:
Six Caravaggios in the Borghese Gallery
The Borghese Gallery in the Villa Borghese Park in the heart of Rome has with six works the largest single collection of Caravaggio paintings in the world:
- Young Man with a Basket of Fruit, ca. 1593
- Self-portrait in the Guise of Bacchus, or more commonly, Sick Bacchus, ca. 1595
- Saint Jerome Writing, ca. 1605,
- Madonna and Child with St. Anne (Madonna Dei Palafrenieri), 1606
- St John the Baptist, ca. 1610
- David with the Head of Goliath (1609-10), using his self-portrait for Goliath.
Museums and Galleries in Rome with Carvaggios
In addition to the Borghese Gallery, Caravaggios are also on display in the following museums in Rome:
- Barberini / Corsini: Judith Beheading Holofernes, c. 1598, Narcissus, c. 1599, John the Baptist, c. 1604, and St Francis in Prayer, c. 1610
- Doria Pamphilj Gallery, the largest private art collection in Rome, has two: Penitent Magdalene, c. 1597, and Rest on the Flight into Egypt, c. 1597.
- Capitoline Museum: The Fortune Teller, c. 1594.
- Vatican Museums: Entombment, c. 1603.
The list excludes collections currently closed or hard to access by individual visitors.