July 17, 2014

Father Zerafa's recommended reading on Caravaggio's Stolen Palermo Nativity -- and his memory of visiting the painting in the S Lorenzo Chapel

Father Zerafa receiving an award in
the S Lorenzo chapel in Palermo
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

After downloading Daniel Silva's recent mystery which involves a fictional attempt to recover Caravaggio's Palermo Nativity, I emailed Father Marius Zerafa to ask him if he'd be reading Silva's thriller. With his permission, I am reprinting his response:
Unfortunately, I have not read the book you mentioned. A good book I would suggest is Peter Watson's The Caravaggio Conspiracy. This is not fiction. It is the story of a serious journalist who tries to contact the Mafia about the Palermo Caravaggio. At one time he is even told the Mafia had 'another Caravaggio in mind' which could easily have been our 'St Jerome'. 
While looking for the Palermo Caravaggio he discovers a number of paintings, stolen and exported illegally. A very interesting book. 'A must' for anyone interested in art thefts. 
As regards my personal interest in the Palermo Caravaggio, I can say that I had seen the original 'Nativity'. This was about 50 years ago and I had gone to Palermo just to see it. The S Lorenzo chapel was not safe at all. I remember knocking at a house next to the chapel and an old lady came and opened the chapel. I remember I was very impressed by the style of the painting (rather different from the other Sicilian works) and also by the strong contrast between the white Serpotta stuccoes and the dark Caravaggio painting. 
Father Zerafa and the S Lorenzo association
Since then I've been to Palermo practically every year. There is an Association, run by a very dedicated young man. They run the S Lorenzo chapel and they organize lectures, etc., associated with The Nativity. They even encourage artists to paint their own versions of the Nativity. I have been asked a number of times to lecture there, they have even awarded me their medal. 
I am sending you a couple of photos you may find of some interest. 
I did find the photos interesting and have included them here, then I ordered Watson's The Caravaggio Conspiracy from an independent bookstore (it's also available in many public libraries). And here is the December 2013 article published by BBC written by Alastair Cooke, the art critic for The Daily Telegraph on the Palermo Nativity. And here's a 2005 article by Peter Robb in The Telegraph, "Will we ever see it again?" which offers a compelling narrative on the Palermo Nativity theft.

And for Gabriel Allon fans, here's a link to Daniel Silva promoting his book on The Today Show.

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