Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) was a Baroque and Renaissance painting born in Milan, Italy. His style consisted of mainly religious or mythological motifs highlighting both the physical state and mental emotions of the human-animal.
Throughout Caravaggio’s illustrious career, he created many Caravaggio famous paintings that you will undoubtedly be familiar with or have at least seen before. Paintings such as The Taking of Christ or Judith Beheading Holofernes are world-famous. Still, they are also said to be inspirations behind the Baroque movement that would become popular during this time.
One such painting of Caravaggio’s was so famous and sought after that it was even stolen by the Italian Mafioso. This article looks into that significant theft and the incredible life of the artist who painted it, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio.
Born from uninspired middle-class beginnings, Caravaggio’s life would go on to consist of some of the most delicate artwork ever produced. Unfortunately, it would also involve much violence, drama, tragedy, and murder. Which contributed to Caravaggio being dubbed “The most famous painter in Rome.”
Like all great artists, Caravaggio was genuinely different from most people. While most recognized him as a great painter, many saw him as a dangerous criminal. He was known to walk around with an unlicensed sword and even argue and fight with police officers.
This tremendous temper may have been fuel for Caravaggio’s finest paintings, but it was also his downfall. After killing a well-known gang member in a duel over a presumed gambling debt, he was forced to flee Rome.
Caravaggio’s ties with criminal activity and violence continued until his presumed murder by poisoning years later. All this, as well as the painting, was stolen by the Mafia generations later, only adding to the legend of the painter. You should learn more about Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio if you are interested. Let’s go into some details and learn about Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio.
Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence, or simply Nativity as it is better known, is a Baroque-style painting of the nativity scene of Jesus. Painted in 1609, it was completed just one year before Caravaggio’s death and is one of his final paintings.
The painting is pretty large at over two meters high and two meters wide and shows the Virgin Mary and several other figures surrounding the newborn Jesus. In this depiction of the Nativity, what is different is the theme of an uncertain future for Jesus rather than the joy of his birth customarily associated with the story.
Perhaps more fascinating than the actual painting is the story of what would come after it. Over three centuries after it was painted, The Nativity would become subject to one of the most exciting and mysterious art robberies.
On a rainy night in October 1969, two thieves broke into the Oratory of Saint Lawrence in Palermo, Italy, where the painting hung. They then carefully cut the painting out of its frame and rolled it up into a carpet taken from the museum’s floor.
The painting has never been seen since and is seen as one of the greatest and most mysterious art robberies in history. Italian police, alongside the FBI and Interpol, have all worked toward finding the painting. But, as of yet, they have been unsuccessful.
However, authorities have all agreed that it was stolen by the Sicilian Mafia and is still circulating somewhere in Italy on the Black Market. Whatever the truth may be, the legacy of the missing painting has grown into the stuff of legend as more and more stories and theories emerge.
Like all good mysteries, the speculation and theories behind what is true quickly become the most exciting part of the story. In the case of Caravaggio, The Nativity is no different.
Over the years, several mafia informants have given several different stories about the fate and whereabouts of the painting. One told investigators that he was involved in the robbery and claimed that it was commissioned to be stolen by a private collector. Who refused to buy it and even wept when he saw its damage.
Another informant claimed that the painting was destroyed in the 1980s. He said that the painting was kept in a barn in Palermo. But was slowly destroyed by rats and mice and was subsequently burnt. Only one thing can be proven for sure: the painting has not been recovered until today.
The Legend Continued
Other than the stories given by police informants, many different theories have been put forward as to what happened to the painting. These stories may hold some truth and clues, while others are like something straight out of Hollywood.
One such theory is that the painting was not stolen by the Mafia but by amateurs instead. Having seen the value of the painting on television some weeks before. They then sold the painting to the Mafia, who moved it from boss to boss until it was eventually buried.
Another alternate theory is that the painting was sold to a South African collector. Which is why it never turned up in Europe. Finally, another story says that the painting was destroyed in the Irpinia earthquake in Southern Italy in 1980. Just before being sold on the black market.
The Bottom Line
Whatever is to be believed, at least this much is true. Both the life of the stolen painting and the life of the painter who painted it is the stuff of legend, and it would be worth your time to check out Caravaggio’s complete works whenever you have the chance.