Treasures of Napoli – Caravaggio’s Seven Works of Mercy


on November 15, 2011 | 3:07 pm | 2 Comments

One of Caravaggio’s most important works, Sette Opere di Misericordia, The Seven Works of Mercy is one of Naples most prized possessions.

A priceless work of art that you won’t find in a museum or a gallery. Rather it graces the high altar of a small church just around the corner from Naples Cathedral, the Duomo. The octagonal Pio Monte della Misericordia (Pious Mount of Mercy) Church that has been home to the painting since its completion in 1607.

Depicting the (Christian) Corporal Works of Mercy, those that tend to the needs of the body, Caravaggio’s Seven Works of Mercy is a mission statement if you will. The inspiration behind a charitable organization founded in 1601 by seven young Neapolitans from seven noble families and still in operation today.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Matthew 25:35-36  The seventh work of mercy, “burying the dead” coming from the Book of Tobias.

Completed in c. January 1607, the work was originally conceived of as seven separate panels. In a stroke of genius however, Caravaggio brought each act together into a single composition. At the top, the Madonna and child and two angels look on.

Sette Opere d Misericordia - Madonna col Bambino e angeli

Mercy. It’s an interesting theme considering the circumstances that brought Caravaggio to Naples. Having fled Rome after killing a man, in Naples he found protection from the bounty on his head and earned the commission for what would become one of his most defining works.

Sette Opere di Misericordia - Dar da bere agli assetati

One can’t help but wonder if some level of contrition played out on the canvas, or conversely, did someone or something take mercy on him. Either way, the theme of Caravaggio’s masterpiece is as relevant today as it was when he painted it over four hundred years ago.

A theme that will be revisited in a new exhibit at Pio Monte della Misericordia entitled Sette Opere per la Misericordia. On display, the works of seven contemporary artists of international acclaim: Marisa Albanese, Carlos Araujo, Sandro Chia, Fluvio Colusso, Mimmo Jodice, Clifford Ross and Charles Skatpin. Each of whom have donated one work that explores the theme of mercy.

For three months (November 19, 2011 – February 19, 2012) these works will be displayed side by side with the masters: Caravaggio, Ballistello Caracciolo, Giordano, Santafede and Azzolino. After which, they will be gifted to Pio Monte della Misericordia and will be on display in the Picture Gallery.

Mercy. It will be very interesting to see a contemporary take on this timeless theme.

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Passionate about my adopted home, for me Naples is the perfect canvas. From its breathtaking vistas to its rich cultural heritage, I could live here a lifetime and never see it all, photograph it all, or write about it all.

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2 reviews

  1. Alexia de Angelis, December 1, 2011 11:08 am - Treasures of Napoli – Caravaggio’s Seven Works of Mercy

    I absolutely adore Caravaggio – I saw one of his works in the Banco di Napoli, via Toledo, last time I was in Napoli. Great article and great blog – absolutely worthy of follow – complimenti!!

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      Bonnie, December 1, 2011 5:51 pm - Treasures of Napoli – Caravaggio’s Seven Works of Mercy

      Thanks so much Alexia! Next time you come to Napoli you must see the Seven Works of Mercy at Pio Monte della Misericordia and his Flagellation of Christ at the Capodimonte Museum. And of course you must look me up :)

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    • FABIO COMELLA, February 23, 2012 3:42 pm - Treasures of Napoli – Caravaggio’s Seven Works of Mercy

      Alessia Napoli ha tanto da vedere, veramente ce ne è per tuti i gusto dal greco-romano la liberty!Al museo di Capodimonte poi ci sono tantissimi caravaggeschi! Io invito te e i tuoi amici a venmirmi a trovare e magari partecipare proprio a questa visita dedicata a Caravaggio: La NAPOLI DEL SEICENTO: DA SAN GENNARO A PULCINELLA PASSANDO PER CARVAGGIO!

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  2. Ellen, April 20, 2015 3:07 pm - Treasures of Napoli – Caravaggio’s Seven Works of Mercy

    I’m a Dutch arthistorian and a huge fan of Caravaggio! I was in Naples last year to see all three works of this master, mindblowing as always. I’ ll be back in Naples for a month in May, can’t wait to go and see it all again. Your blog is great, thanks for sharing it!

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      Bonnie Alberts, April 22, 2015 10:01 am - Treasures of Napoli – Caravaggio’s Seven Works of Mercy

      Thanks so much Ellen – great to hear you enjoy both Naples and Napoli Unplugged!!! There will be plenty do in May as it is Maggio dei Monumenti. Check our events pages for listings.

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