Nativity With Saint Lawrence and Saint Francis or the Adoration
MICHELANGELO MERISI DA CARAVAGGIO
1571 – 1610
Oil Painting, 1609
8.8 x 6.5ft (268 x 197 centimeters)
Current Value: $20 million
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio is considered to be one of the most innovative artists in the history of art. He worked directly from posed models, which gave a new sense of everyday reality to his works.
His work had a great influence on the Baroque painters of Italy, but because he never set up a workshop to teach his techniques, his fame only lasted a few decades after his death.
However, during the 1920s, the art critic Roberto Longhi began to promote Caravaggio, and today he is recognized as one of the greatest painters, but we only know of 80 works that can be attributed to him.
“The Nativity” presents a group of figures surrounding the newborn Christ-child on his bed of straw. Caravaggio was famous for employing a technique called chiaroscuro, which balanced dark and light in order to draw particular attention to the most important parts of the painting, in this case, the Virgin Mary, Christ, Archdeacon Lawrence and the angel arriving from heaven. The barn fades into the dark background. The angel is holding a banner where the words of the Gloria are written. The angel’s right hand is pointing to heaven, while at the same time he is looking down at the Christ-child. The gesture is intended to indicate to the child that he is the Son of God.
The work was one of the four paintings that Caravaggio completed while he was hiding from the Sicilian police, who had charged him with murdering a young man during an argument.
Caravaggio’s works are considered priceless for the simple reason that none of them have ever gone up for auction. Though for insurance purposes they are valued somewhere between $70-200 million.
The painting had been hanging in the church of San Lorenzo in Palermo since it was originally created in the early 1600s. Sometime between October 17th and 18th 1969, two thieves entered the Oratory of San Lorenzo, used a razor to cut the painting out of its frame and removed it from the church.
There are a number of theories as to why the work was stolen and who currently has it. In 1996, Francesco Marino Mannioa, a former Mafia heroin refiner, announced that he was responsible for the theft. According to him, it was a theft to order, but due to the damage that occurred during the theft the person it was stolen for refused to take it. Others are saying that Mannioa remembered incorrectly, and that he stole a different painting at about the same time.
Another theory is that it was not a Cosa Nostra crime, and that amateurs equipped with a blade and a three-wheeled delivery van stole it. After the theft, they offered the work to the Cosa Nostra. The painting was passed from one boss to another until it reached Gerlando “The Rug” Alberti, who tried to sell it. After failing to sell the painting, they say, he wrapped it in a rug, put it in a chest and buried it. Eventually the chest was discovered but it did not contain the rug or the painting. It is generally assumed that the painting is still in possession of the Cosa Nostra.