Artist Vanessa Beecroft became the first international artist to install a tribute to Caravaggio’s Nativity, lost in 1969.
Every year since 2010, the Oratory of Saint Lawrence in Palermo, Italy chooses an artist to install a tribute to the lost Caravaggio painting. The only directives of the commission are to adhere to the original dimensions of the painting and to create their own interpretation of Caravaggio’s work. On Christmas eve, Vanessa Beecroft unveiled this year’s tribute in the antechamber of the church. With this, she also became the first internationally-recognized artist to be chosen for this honor.
The historic church had been the house of the painting (one of the Caravaggio works in Sicily) since 1600. However, in 1969, the painting disappeared without a trace from the church. Rumors heavily suggested the involvement of the Cosa Nostra – the Sicilian mafia – in the disappearance. Over the years, various reports suggested that the work was shredded to pieces, destroyed otherwise, or is still stored somewhere. However, the case remains unsolved 54 years since the theft.
Nativity depicts the scene of the birth of Jesus Christ. The painting featured Mary holding baby Jesus, alongside Joesph, Saint Lawrence, Saint Francis, an unidentified male pilgrim, and a light recognized as the Holy Spirit. Vanessa Beecroft chose the recreate this scene but with slight modifications. She overshadows the male figures – Joseph, the two saints, and the male pilgrim. In turn, she sheds more light on Mary, baby Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. This is in tune with Beecroft’s history of reclaiming and subverting the female gaze in historic art.
The painting will continue to be on display in the church till October 17, 2023.