Who was Fillide Mellandroni? She was born in Siena into a noble family in 1582 but travelled to Rome with her mother and brother in an attempt to reconnect with her dead father's relatives when she was eleven years old. That attempt didn't go well, and by age thirteen she was working the streets as a prostitute. Details of her brushes with the law can be found in Andrew Graham-Dixon's excellent biography of Caravaggio.
Sometime in 1598, she became a model for Caravaggio. The first painting portrayed her as Mary Magdalene. She sat for him in the roles of Judith in Judith and Holofernes, Saint Catherine, and for Portrait of a Courtesan. In Caravaggio, Graham-Dixon postulates this latter was painted for her, perhaps in payment for favours received. However, other sources suggest it was commissioned by Vincenzo Giustinia, or by Giulio Strozzi, her richest patron. In her will, she directed the executor to restore it to its owner, Strozzi. (Caravaggio, Andrew Graham-Dixon)
Fillide's life on the street brought her into court and left her, some say, at the centre of the act that resulted in Caravaggio's exile from Rome and his death. What was the inciting incident of the duel that ended with Caravaggio aiming for Tomassoni's groin? Caravaggio missed the scrotum, hitting the femoral artery. Tomassoni bled to death where he lay. The participants claimed the fight arose over a game of tennis, but as Graham-Dixon points out, Caravaggio targeted the groin, an act of sexual revenge. Was it a battle over Fillide, or Tomassoni's wife? The record is not clear.
Fillide returned to the protection of the Tomassoni brothers after she spent some time in prison for leading a young bridegroom astray. But her life rose above the squalid when she became the lover of Giulio Strozzi. She turned to religion, supported charities and died in her faith.
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