Caravaggio 1573 – 1610

The Nativity

oil on canvas (298 × 197 cm) — 1609 Museum San Lorenzo Oratory, Palermo

Caravaggio biography

This work is linked to Luke 2:7

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Besides Mary, Joseph and an angel, two saints witness this Nativity: Lawrence (left) and Francis (right). The painting used to hang in a prayer chapel (oratory) named after Lawrence, close to a church named after Francis.

Joseph is depicted as a young blond man. He seems to be talking to the man next to Francis - perhaps a shepherd. Mary looks somewhat melancholic, as if she knows how her son's life will end.

The canvas is usually dated 1609, when Caravaggio was in Palermo. But there are indications it was made earlier. There is a commission from 1600 for an unknown work. Also, Mary looks very similar to Judith in 1599, so Caravaggio may have used the same model.

The painting was stolen in 1969. A reproduction was put up in the chapel in 2016.

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