Caravaggio 1573 – 1610

The Seven Works of Mercy

oil on canvas (390 × 260 cm) — 1607 Museum Pio Monte della Misericordia, Naples

Caravaggio biography

This work is linked to Matthew 25:35

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Caravaggio made this altarpiece during his stay in Naples. He managed to put the seven works into one busy Naples street. The painting is still in the church for which it was made.

To the right is a woman breastfeeding a man. This represents two acts in one scene: feeding the hungry (1) and visiting prisoners (2). The scene refers to an ancient Roman story, Carità Romana, in which a woman helps her father who has been sentenced to life imprisonment without any food.

Behind the woman is a man carrying a dead person: burying the dead (3).

The naked man in the foreground is a beggar who has received a part of St Martin's cloth, symbolizing dressing the naked (4). Next to St Martin St James of Compostella is talking to an innkeeper: sheltering strangers (5). Behind them Samson is drinking: relieving the thirsty (6).

Visiting the sick (7) is not very clear in this painting. Probably the boy next to the beggar represents that act of mercy.

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