Discovering Caravaggio's works in Sicily
Dear readers of our travel blog, today we offer you a special journey to discover the works of one of the greatest Italian painters: Michelangelo Merisi, better known as Caravaggio. Sicily, with its rich history and breathtaking landscapes, has also witnessed the art of this Baroque genius. We will take you to discover the three works of Caravaggio present on the island, telling you the story behind each painting and pointing out where to admire them. Get ready to dive into the fascinating world of Caravaggio's art!
The Nativity with Saints Lawrence and Francis (1609) – Palermo
Our journey begins in Palermo, the lively Sicilian capital, where the Church of San Lorenzo, also known as La Compagnia, is located. Unfortunately, the original of this magnificent work, created in 1609, was stolen in 1969 and has not yet been found. However, you can admire a faithful replica of the painting, placed in the same position as the original, above the main altar.
The Nativity depicts the scene of the birth of Jesus, with Saints Lawrence and Francis on either side of the Holy Family. The work is characterized by intense drama and the chiaroscuro typical of Caravaggio's style, creating an atmosphere of sanctity and mystery.
The Adoration of the Shepherds (1609) - Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, Messina
The second work by Caravaggio that we will explore is located in the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Messina. The Adoration of the Shepherds is another example of Caravaggio's mastery in using light and shadow to create dramatic effects. In this painting, Caravaggio depicts the biblical scene of the shepherds visiting the hut of the newly born Jesus. The characters are enveloped in an atmosphere of deep devotion and humility, while the light emanating from the child illuminates the faces of the shepherds, creating a three-dimensional effect.
The Resurrection of Lazarus (1609) - Regional Museum of Messina
The third work is located in Messina. The Resurrection of Lazarus depicts the biblical story of Lazarus, a man resurrected by Jesus four days after his death. Caravaggio paints the scene with incredible emotional intensity, capturing the moment when Lazarus, still wrapped in his burial cloths, begins to move under the astonished gaze of the onlookers. The grazing light that illuminates the scene highlights the figure of Jesus and the powerful gesture with which he performs the miracle, emphasizing the divine intervention.
The Burial of Saint Lucy (1608) - Church of Santa Lucia alla Badia, Syracuse
Our journey continues with The Burial of Saint Lucy, housed in the Church of Santa Lucia alla Badia, located in the stunning Piazza Duomo of Syracuse, on the island of Ortigia. This painting depicts the moment when the body of Saint Lucy, martyr and patron saint of Syracuse, is being buried.
Caravaggio employs his signature chiaroscuro technique to create a dramatic and solemn atmosphere. Saint Lucy's body lies on a white sheet, surrounded by the figures attending the funeral, while divine light illuminates the face of the saint and the faces of the bystanders, emphasizing the devotion and sorrow of those present.
The Burial of Saint Lucy is another masterpiece that showcases Caravaggio's skill in telling stories of faith and devotion through his unmistakable art. We invite you to visit this captivating work of art during your stay in Sicily and to admire the beauty of Syracuse and its ancient history.
Who was Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio?
Let's discover with a complete biography:
Full Name: Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio
Birth: September 29, 1571, Milan, Duchy of Milan (now Italy)
Death: July 18, 1610, Porto Ercole, Grand Duchy of Tuscany (now Italy)
Most Important Works: The Calling of Saint Matthew, Supper at Emmaus, The Burial of Saint Lucy, The Resurrection of Lazarus
Early Life and Training:
Michelangelo Merisi, better known as Caravaggio after his hometown, Caravaggio (in Lombardy), was born on September 29, 1571, into a modest family. His father, Fermo Merisi, was a master mason, while his mother, Lucia Aratori, came from a family of landowners.
In 1576, due to the plague epidemic that struck Milan, the Merisi family moved to Caravaggio. In 1584, at the age of 13, Caravaggio began an apprenticeship in the studio of the Milanese painter Simone Peterzano, a pupil of the famous Titian. During his apprenticeship, Caravaggio learned the basics of painting and studied the works of the great Renaissance masters.
Artistic Career in Rome:
In 1592, at the age of 21, Caravaggio moved to Rome, the center of Renaissance art and culture. Here, he began working as an assistant in various artistic studios, including that of the painter Giuseppe Cesari, also known as the Cavaliere d'Arpino. During this time, Caravaggio studied the works of masters like Michelangelo, Raphael, and Titian, developing his unique and innovative style.
His artistic career truly took off when he met Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte, who became his main patron and supporter. Thanks to Cardinal Del Monte's influence, Caravaggio received significant commissions for religious paintings for Roman churches and chapels, such as "The Calling of Saint Matthew" and "The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew" for the Contarelli Chapel in the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi.
Caravaggio became renowned for his chiaroscuro technique, also called tenebrism, which involves creating a strong contrast between light and shadow to emphasize the drama and emotional depth of the depicted scenes. Among his most famous works from this period are "The Fortune Teller," "Bacchus," "The Cardsharps," and "The Basket of Fruit."
Despite his artistic success, Caravaggio's life was marked by episodes of violence and clashes with the law. In 1606, after killing a man in a brawl, he was forced to flee Rome and live in exile.
During his exile, Caravaggio traveled to various Italian cities, including Naples, where he painted works like "The Seven Works of Mercy" and "The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula." He then went to Malta, where he became a knight of the Order of Saint John and created works like "The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist" for the Cathedral of Saint John in Valletta.
In 1608, Caravaggio left Malta and headed to Sicily, where he joined his friend Mario Minniti, a painter and former workshop companion in Rome. During his stay in Sicily, Caravaggio produced some significant works, including the previously mentioned "The Burial of Saint Lucy" (1608) for the Church of Santa Lucia alla Badia in Syracuse, and "The Adoration of the Shepherds" (1609) and "The Resurrection of Lazarus" (1609) for the city of Messina. After a brief return to Naples in 1609, where he painted "The Flagellation of Christ" and "The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula," Caravaggio embarked on a journey back to Rome in 1610, hoping to obtain papal pardon and thus return to the Eternal City.
Unfortunately, on July 18, 1610, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio died in Porto Ercole, under circumstances that remain shrouded in mystery to this day. Despite a short and tumultuous life, Caravaggio left behind an immense artistic legacy that profoundly influenced European painting in the subsequent centuries.
Caravaggio is renowned for his chiaroscuro technique, which creates a stark contrast between light and shadow to emphasize the subjects and emotions of his works. Moreover, his paintings are characterized by the choice of realistic and everyday subjects, rather than idealized ones, and by portraying biblical and religious scenes with a strong dramatic and human component.
His innovative and provocative art led numerous 17th-century artists, known as "Caravaggisti," to take him as a model and source of inspiration. Among these are Orazio Gentileschi, Artemisia Gentileschi, Jusepe de Ribera, and Gerrit van Honthorst. Caravaggio's influence also extends beyond the Baroque, impacting painters like Rembrandt, Diego Velázquez, and many others.