The Caravaggio in my grandmother’s home was a poster of The Lute Player
(1596–97). The painting was celebrated as a “rediscovered” Caravaggio in a 1990 exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
; it had previously been considered a copy of an earlier, similar Caravaggio hanging in the State Hermitage Museum
in St. Petersburg by another artist. My grandmother’s lifelong love for music led her to buy the poster upon attending the Met exhibition. She was pleased that I was studying Caravaggio and told me I could have the poster when she went to her “great reward.”
My grandmother began talking about her death in her seventies, in a half-joking manner that I have never been able to respond to with levity. She has long predicted she would pass at 88 years old. It’s a good number, she believes, the number of keys on a piano. It’s the age she is now. For years, she has tried to give away her belongings as she prepares for her great reward. Though I can imagine her journeying to the afterlife as Egyptian royalty did, accompanied by cherished possessions, such as her Lladró figurines, paintings, and sheet music, she has opted for cremation at her modest Episcopal church. She reminds me of this each time I see her.
I have deflected taking the Caravaggio poster for well over a decade. “We don’t have room,” I tell her. “My husband and I live in a small Brooklyn apartment. Let’s wait until we have more space.” Really, I mean: “Not now, not yet. I’m not ready to lose you.”