Caravaggio’s nativity


The paintings that Caravaggio left on the island of Sicily at the start of the 17th century are stupendous masterpieces of popular art from which the power of his lost nativity can be judged: cavernous, eerie visions in the colours of fire and night. He came to the island in 1608, a fugitive who had been the most famous painter in Rome before he killed a man in a street fight and fled. In Sicily – then ruled by Spain – he moved about constantly, fearfully. In Palermo, the island’s capital, the wanderer discovered a meeting place of Mediterranean styles and faiths, where Byzantine, Gothic and Muslim artists had worked together in the middle ages. Caravaggio arrived during the birth of the Baroque revival that would ornament the streets with churches dripping with carved angels and saints. Among them is the Oratory of San Lorenzo, actually not a church at all but the meeting place of a pious lay brotherhood.

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