Caravaggio’s courtesan…

Let’s travel back in time to Rome in the late 1500s, and meet a prostitute and artist’s model named Fillide Melandroni.

I never knew her name until last night, when I looked up one of my favorite paintings, “Judith Beheading Holofernes.” In that Biblical story, the heroine Judith lulls the Assyrian general Holofernes into drunken passivity, then assassinates him. Result? His troops are demoralized and defeated and the Hebrews of Judith’s village of Bethulia survive.

Fillide, as Judith, looks like a dangerously cool customer

Fillide, as Judith, looks like a dangerously cool customer...

Apparently Fillide’s friend and lover, the great painter Caravaggio, killed her pimp by trying to castrate him. Fillide frequented the palazzos of the wealthy, but she was a street girl at heart. I can imagine her pressing a hard bargain for her fee. Caravaggio was notorious for using ordinary people as the models for his religious-themed paintings, which was apparently a radical practice at that time in art history. Prostitutes (or courtesans, as they were more delicately called) posed for such Biblical figures as Mary Magdalene, Martha, and Saint Catherine, seen directly below. The heathen Romans wanted to torture Saint Catherine on the wheel for out-debating their pagan philosophers and converting them to Christianity, but the wheel broke at her very touch.

Fillide's face conveys the beauty and bravery of St. Catherine, but the virginity? Hmm...

Fillide's face conveys the intelligence and bravery of St. Catherine, but the virginity? Hmm...

Caravaggio painted Fillide as herself in 1597 in the Portrait of a Courtesan, a painting that has since been lost and is known only through reproductions:

Here, Fillide looks like she was packing on the pounds...

Here, Fillide looks like she was packing on the pounds...

I like her better in Caravaggio’s Martha and Mary Magdalene, where Fillide as Martha persuades Mary to give up her life of sin and eroticism. Of course, both models lived that kind of life for real outside the studio–Fillide’s friend Anna Bianchini, as Mary, was another prostitute.

Fillide's composure has a very erotic quality as she rests her arm on the mirror...

Fillide's composure has a very erotic quality as she rests her arm on the mirror...

I wonder if Caravaggio got into bed with both of these lovelies after a long session of posing? The painter was apparently bisexual.

I like those tight bodices on the gowns. I can just imagine the rustle of the fabric as the ladies climb on top of me. Fillide definitely looks as if she enjoyed riding cowgirl!

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Published in: on January 9, 2009 at 4:18 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Masterful analysis and orginal thinking! A+++++++ More, more, more!!!

  2. Thank you, Mr. Marchetti. I’m just trying to make history fun!


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