Caravaggio's Stroke of Genius

Commissioned by the Grand Master, Caravaggio's Beheading of St John was made in 1608 for the chapel of the Co-Cathedral. It is the largest work the artist ever painted (12 feet x 17 feet) and the only one he ever signed. This painting is described as his all-time masterpiece.

The painting depicts the moment in Biblical history where St John is beheaded by King Herod to satisfy the blood lust of the seductive dancer, Salome. The scene is the courtyard of a prison and the grisly murder is observed by two other prisoners looking through a grille, while a young woman and an old crone stand ready to take the severed head and put it on the waiting platter. The blood flowing from St John's neck drips towards the bottom of the frame and in its red stream, Caravaggio signed his name.

On the oratory's right wall hangs Caravaggio’s smaller painting of St Jerome. Stolen in 1984 and rescued in a dramatic operation some months later, the painting depicts an elderly man sitting with a pen in his hand.