As he traveled across Italy—from Naples to Malta, then Sicily, and back again to Naples—Caravaggio’s style began to shift. His late paintings (“late” being a relative term, since the artist died at 38) revel in a “darkness that's more complete, more total, more absorbing of light than what he had done earlier in the much brighter Roman paintings,” said University of Delaware art history professor David M. Stone.
All the while, Caravaggio was working to secure a papal pardon and return to Rome. Yet his unchecked aggression undermined him at every turn—after completing the year of training necessary to join the Order of Malta, Caravaggio got into a scuffle and managed to seriously injure one of its member knights. Instead of a pardon, he fled the town with his criminal record doubled.
Caravaggio never made it back to Rome. He painted his final two works during his return visit to Naples—both of which are currently on display in the Met’s succinctly named exhibition “Caravaggio’s Last Two Paintings.” Stone noted that these works are characterized by their almost claustrophobic framing. “When you get to the second Naples period, the space is practically gone,” he said. “There's these huge close-ups, you're right there with him. He really changes the position of his lens.”
The Denial of Saint Peter is a part of the museum’s permanent collection. Yet, for centuries following Caravaggio’s death, no historian knew it existed. It wasn’t until the aftermath of World War II, when an antiques dealer sold the painting as an anonymous work to a Neapolitan collector, that it caught the interest of scholars. Even then, it took years of restoration before the work was acknowledged as a genuine Caravaggio.