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.
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!)
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.
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.