The (Digital) Return of Caravaggio’s Nativity

December 10, 2015 / Art & Archaeology
Palermo, Sicilia

Sadly among the top 10 works of art most sought-after by Italy’s investigative forces, Caravaggio’s early 17th century masterpiece, the Natività con i santi Lorenzo e Francesco d’Assisi (Nativity with saints Lorenzo and Francis of Assisi), was stolen by the Sicilian mafia in 1969 from the chapel for which it was commissioned, never to be found again.

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Over the years the painting has been a grim reminder of one of the city’s many battles lost against organized crime. Academics and art afficionados however made sure to keep the memory of the painting alive and endeavoured to ensure that other masterpieces did not suffer its same fate.

Fast forward to a few years ago and the putative heirs to those “art guardians” are still working together. Worth mentioning are Bernardo Tortorici, head of the Amici dei Musei Siciliani (Friends of the Sicilian Museums), Colonel Fernando Musella of the Nucleo Tutela del Patrimonio Artistico of the Carabinieri, and Peter Glidewell, an art afficionado in London with a love for Sicily. In fact, it’s during a trip to Venice that Glidewell sees the magnificent digital copy of Veronesi’s Marriage at Cana (the original, taken from the refectory of San Giorgio Maggiore, is in the Louvre) and begins to wonder whether one could be made of Caravaggio’s Nativity.

Fortunately, before being stolen, all phases of the Nativity’s restoration in 1951 by the ’Istituto per la Conservazione e il Restauro‘ had been recorded and each step had been photographed in very high resolution by Enzo Brai. Based on these records and prints, the above mentioned group approached Adam Lowe of Factum Arte in Madrid who had done the Veronesi “recreation”. (Factum Arte not only scans but actually invents new technology for high definition 2D as well as 3D scanning and printing requirements related to art… think MIT meets the Uffizi, amazing work!)

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It turns out that Lowe had already done a number of scans and studies of other Caravaggio works, and so with his and his team’s experience, the restoration records and Brai’s prints to work off of, he began recreating a very exact digital version (with similar texture, joints, weight, and framing) of the original Nativity. These efforts were funded by the Sky Arts Production Hub.

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While the original is still missing, this (digital) masterpiece has now been hung in the empty space where the original once stood, and now stands as the legacy of all those who never gave up on Palermo or its incredible artistic and cultural patrimony.

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GB

by GB Bernardini

Editor, Italian Notebook

14 Responses to “The (Digital) Return of Caravaggio’s Nativity”

  1. Albert Pizzi

    What an encredible piece of mordern technology to reproduce a true masterpiece.Bravo to that team and bravo to you for informing us about this work of art. Thank you

    Reply
  2. Ann Waggoner

    Having lived in Napoli seventeen years I have a special interest in Caravaggio..This was a beautiful and timely treat!. Thank you GB.

    Reply
  3. Linda Boccia

    One of my favorite spy novel writers is Daniel Silva and his principle character is art restorer Gabriel Allon, who was trained by a restoration master in venice. the character’s particular favorite Italian painter is Caravaggio and the writer describes, often in detail, how the paintings were restored or cleaned. The books are a good read and the information about Italian painters is also informative.

    Reply
  4. Angela Finch

    Thank you I wonder whether it will be included in exhibitions of Caravaggio’s work.

    Reply
  5. m.bernadette higgins

    Thanks so much for sharing Caravaggio’s Nativity. In 2013 my husband and I
    toured the Borghese Museum in Rome. To say it was all magnificent is an understatement. Of it all, the one outstanding piece that captured our eye and heart
    was Caravaggio’s David with it’s self-portrait head. Absolutely a stunner! We fell in love with his work. Thank you again for brining this work to our attention. Brava.

    Reply
  6. To all my fellow Americans who enjoyed The Godfather, Goodfellas and so many other gangster movies: don’t be fooled into thinking that these Mafiosi are civilized people. They are not. They are worthless parasites and are not and never will be “civilized”. They care for nothing but themselves. They are pigs, beneath contempt. They are a scourge upon our Western civilization. The Caravaggio that they stole was ours. It belonged to all of us. They stole it from Western Civilization. They shall never be forgiven. Death to them all!
    While in Rome a few years ago I noticed an anti mafia Police Station. These men, the ones who fight these beasts of the underworld, are wholly worthy of our admiration, respect and yes, even love. I say to them, “the world admires you for devotion and service to our Western way of life. Bless you all and be safe.”

    Reply
  7. Jack Litewka

    A very interesting column…about a painting by one of Italy’s (and the world’s) greatest painters.

    Reply
  8. Victoria De Maio

    “Lost” but not lost thanks to technology. Thank goodness! Who would’ve guessed? After the recent theft in Verona, perhaps this should be an investment all museums should consider.

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  9. Mary Cappiello

    Thank you, GB. This was very informative , and it is gratifying to see that through technology, dedication and talent we can all be allowed to view this masterpiece in its new form.

    Reply
  10. Anne Robichaud

    Thanks, GB, for a great note..and as Italian President Mattarella put it, Italian technology and artistic skills are affronting the Mafia….though of course, loss of the original is painful

    Reply

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