Fillide Melandroni was a famous courtesan from the final decade of the XVI century. She was so beautiful that even the great master Caravaggio took a liking to her, and as a result we can observe her face in four of his paintings. Apparently his affection for this girl resulted in bloody outcome. Caravaggio allegedly killed and castrated her pimp, Ranuccio Tomassoni after the game of tennis, and fled Italy afterwards. 

Here we can see her face depicted in Caravaggio’s works:

1. Judith Beheading Holofernes (whole piece)

2. Saint Catherine of Alexandria (whole piece)

3. Portrait of a Courtesan (whole piece)

4. Martha and Mary Magdalene (whole piece)

External image

Saint Catherine of Alexandria, c. 1598
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (Italian, 1571-1610)
Oil on canvas, 173 x 133 cm
Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid, Spain

This painting was almost certainly commissioned in Rome by Caravaggio’s first patron, Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte. Captured in a strikingly natural pose, the figure of St Catherine has been identified as Fillide Melandroni, a celebrated courtesan of the time. Richly dressed in robes befitting a princess, and kneeling on a cushion, she gazes out at the viewer surrounded by the attributes of her martyrdom: the breaking—wheel, the sword with which she was beheaded and the martyr’s palm. The dramatic lighting of the scene creates a chiaroscuro effect characteristic of Caravaggio, whose approach to light and volume—evident in this canvas—was to have considerable impact both in Italy and throughout Europe.