Caravagio, Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence, 1609
Content and Context
The painting depicts a Nativity scene in the typical Caravagio style. The stark contrasts between light and dark are evident. In this piece, Caravagio associated the birth of Christ not with the joy of Redemption but with uncertainty. Shepherds, saints, and animals encircle the child. St. Lawrence appears on the left and St. Francis on the right, holding a staff and often mistaken for a shepherd. Christ lays on a straw bed and white drapery. Mary and the ox in the shadows gazes down at him. An angel hovers above holding a banner with written words of gloria. His hand points upward as if to assure the baby that he really is the Son of God.
Caravagio is associated with the Southern Baroque period. Tenebrism is a common technique of the time.
Description of Theft
Originally stolen from the Oratory of San Lorenzo in Palermo, Siciliy in 1969, one of the art world's most notorious stolen paintings is still missing. It had been in this church and removed from its frame. There have been stories and theories of what has happened but the main accuser is the Sicilian Mafia. One member of the mob in 1996 stated that they had stolen the painting for a private buyer, only to accidentally destroy it while cutting the canvas from the frame. Another former member a decade later claimed that the painting had been hidden in a barn, but had been severely damaged by rats and hogs before being burned. A last theory was testified by a former Mafia member who says it was burned in the Eighties.
The location of this piece of artwork remains unknown, but it it were still to exist, it would be worth up to $20 million.