Caravaggio’s 1601 Roma Scene In ‘Ripley’ Finale, Explained

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Tom Ripley was not just a psychopathic killer. He was an artist who never found his true medium. People say unrequited love turns toxic over a period of time. However, unfulfilled dreams can have a far-reaching effect on a man’s psyche. [Spoiler Alert] At the beginning of episode 8, Netflix’s Ripley series took us back to 16th century Rome, where some guards found a dead body on the city stairs. The dead body belonged to a gangster named Ranuccio Tomasson, who was murdered by a great Italian painter, Caravaggio. As per the official records, Caravaggio and Ranuccio clashed with each other a lot of times, and their argument turned violent. Maybe the murder was just an extension of such a brawl. However, some rumors suggest that Caravaggio killed Ranuccio over a Roman prostitute named Fillide Melandroni. The woman often modeled for Caravaggio’s paintings, and Ranuccio was her pimp. As per the autopsy reports, Ranuccio had a cut near his groin, which further suggested that Caravaggio tried to cut off his private parts for insulting his woman. Maybe it is true, or maybe not. But it is important to note here that Caravaggio didn’t intend to kill the man. He wanted to humiliate him. However, history can vouch for the fact that when men play with sharp blades, people often end up dead. The question here is: how does Tom Ripley become a part of the narrative?

It is no surprise that Tom loved Caravaggio and was impressed by his work. As Caravaggio’s scene ends, we can see Tom flaunting a mustache and goatee similar to Caravaggio’s, suggesting that Tom believed himself to be Caravaggio or at least wanted to emulate the great painter. Anyone who has finished watching Netflix’s Ripley can recognize a parallel between this street fight in 1606 and Dickie Greenleaf’s murder in the 1960s. In a way, Tom did kill Dickie over a woman. Not that Tom loved Marge Sherwood or respected her, but she was the woman who, according to Tom, had poisoned Dickie’s mind and turned him against his friend. Much like Tom, Caravaggio, too, had spent much of his lifetime on the run. While Caravaggio was known for his violent temperament, Tom was involved in an IRS scam, which caused him to leave New York as soon as he got the opportunity to do so. After Dickie’s murder, Tom feared arrest and execution and, therefore, constantly moved from one place to another, just like his inspiration, Caravaggio.

After killing Ranuccio, the Italian painter escaped to Palazzo Colonna in Paliano, where a widow named Costanza Sforza gave him shelter and protection for the time being. Caravaggio’s father had served Costanza’s husband, Francesco, and therefore, a past loyalty helped Caravaggio evade law and arrest in the meantime. A similar thing happened with Tom, who quickly moved to Rome after Dickie’s murder, where Dickie’s identity and his father’s money provided a lifestyle Tom yearned for but never really received. However, similar to Caravaggio’s fate, Tom’s crimes came hunting him down. Ranuccio came from a wealthy and affluent family that demanded justice for their fallen son. They wanted Caravaggio to be beheaded for the murder he had committed. As soon as the sentence was announced, Caravaggio’s painting started depicting similar severed heads, maybe because he feared his execution. Tom had had a similar conversation inside his head with a dead Dickie paying him a visit. Additionally, Tom committed both murders by hitting the victims on their heads. Maybe it was a coincidence, or maybe Caravaggio influenced Tom on a subconscious level that he didn’t even realize.

It wouldn’t be wrong to suggest that an artist takes inspiration from his real life. While Caravaggio depicted his conflicted life in his painting, Tom impersonated a real person to fulfill his dreams. Later, Caravaggio moved to Malta and then to Palermo to live a free life, but after a long exile, he finally took his last breath in 1610 during his return to Rome. Caravaggio died under mysterious circumstances. Few historians suggest that he died of syphilis or some other untreatable disease. Others believe that his enemies finally caught up to him and attacked him to make him pay for his crimes. 

Tom’s days of glory, too, were numbered, as Freddie Miles paid him a visit and confronted him for impersonating his friend Dickie. Tom freaked out. He had no other means to protect himself but to kill Freddie, soon after which he moved to Palermo and then to Venice under his own identity. An important detail that I would like to mention is that in Netflix’s Ripley, Caravaggio cherished his blood-stained dagger and kept it as a souvenir. For Tom, the heavy glass ashtray had a similar role to play. 

Caravaggio was known as the master of light and used the contrast of light and shadows to create realistic paintings during his time. Caravaggio’s signature style, called Chiaroscuro, had a strong impact on Tom, who not only found it to be a striking quality of his paintings but also applied a similar technique to deceive the Italian Inspector Pietro Ravini. In the book, Tom is a failed actor who struggles to make ends meet in New York. Most likely, he used his acting skills and Caravaggio’s style to create a character for Ravini. When Tom first met Ravini in Rome, the light was bright, and Ravini had a good look at Tom’s clean-shaven face. But when he met him in his villa in Venice, Tom put on some fake beard and hair color to trick the inspector.

Last but not least, maybe it was Caravaggio’s attraction to men, as he was rumored to have intimate relationships with both men and women, that interested Tom the most. Tom’s sexuality had been out in the open for a while, as both the source material and the 1999 film, The Talented Mr. Ripley made it explicitly clear that Tom had feelings for Dickie and was jealous of his relationship with Marge. Tom knew that Dickie was going to abandon him, and Tom couldn’t go back to a miserable life, so he acted impulsively. There is no doubt that Caravaggio was a talented painter. But the question that we still can’t answer is: Was Tom Ripley a talented artist or just an ambitious imposter? Maybe changing his name, place, and look is Tom’s only talent, and maybe it will help him survive in the wild as long as he can. But if he keeps walking on the same path as Caravaggio, then Tom’s end is near, too.


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Shikhar Agrawal
Shikhar Agrawal
I am an Onstage Dramatist and a Screenwriter. I have been working in the Indian Film Industry for the past 12 years, writing dialogues for various films and television shows.

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