Showing posts with label Palermo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Palermo. Show all posts

July 7, 2015

The Oratorio of San Lorenzo in Palermo, Sicily: Where a stolen Caravaggio Nativity once hung above the altar


Street entrance to the Oratorio of San Lorenzo in Palermo
by Judge Arthur Tompkins

This post continues last week's post "Sicily, Palermo, Cicero, and a missing Caravaggio".

I found it.

Not, sadly, Caravaggio's Nativity. But the stunning Oratorio where it should hang.

The Oratorio of San Lorenzo in Palermo, Sicily, is at Via Immacolatella, 3, next door to a larger church dedicated to Saint Francis, which overlooks a quiet piazza. It's a little tricky to find, a few streets back on the south side of Via Vittorio Emanuele, on the seaward side of both the main north-south roads, Via Marqueda and Via Roma, in the Old Town.

Just in case you're interested, the easiest route is to turn off Via Vittorio Emanuele into Via Alessandro Paternostro, then walk down this gently curving street until it opens into the small piazza. The Chiesa San Francesco is on your left, across the piazza, and the entrance to Via Immacolatella is in the far left corner: it heads back towards Via Vittorio Emanuele. You'll most likely need to keep your map close at hand as you untangle the labyrinth to find the front entrance.

Leafy courtyard of the Oratorio of San Lorenzo
Inside the entrance and up a few steps is a small leafy courtyard. You pay the modest entrance fee on the left (hang on to your ticket - it will get you free or reduced entrance to a list of other places, including the sombre and austere 12th century church of San Cataldo, with its distinctive three cupolas, just behind Piazza Pretoria) and then the door to the Oratorio is diagonally across the courtyard, in the far corner nearest the street.

Inside a vibrant rococo feast of Giacomo Serpotta baroque stucco work greets you, showing various scenes from the life of St Lawrence, culminating in his martyrdom atop a fiery brazier on the rear wall.

The copy of the stolen Caravaggio painting of the Nativity
But opposite that, in pride of place above the altar, hangs a full size replica of the stolen painting. Even as a copy, it dominates the rectangular room, the only break in the profusion of white and gilded stucco-work.

It remains a silent witness to a now decades-old theft, with little or no hope for the recovery of an original most likely now gone for ever.

Sources for further reading on the theft of Palermo's Caravaggio Nativity can be found here.

July 3, 2015

Further Information about Palermo's stolen Caravaggio Nativity painting

Caravaggio, "Nativity with Saint Lawrence
and Saint Francis"
For further reading on the ARCA Blog about Caravaggio's "Nativity with Saint Lawrence and Saint Francis" stolen from a church in Palermo in 1969:

Judith Harris, "Breaking News on the Stolen Caravaggio Nativity", December 18, 2009;

Catherine Schofield Sezgin, "More confirmation of old news? Pietro Grasso, head of the anti-Mafia crime unit, confirms in May that Caravaggio's Nativity of Palermo eaten by pigs", May 10, 2012;

Sezgin, "Revisiting books: Peter Watson on the Palermo Nativity in the 1984 book The Caravaggio Conspiracy", May 14, 2012;

Sezgin, "Revisiting books: Watson's The Caravaggio Conspiracy and the motive for stealing the Palermo Nativity",  May 16, 2012;

Sezgin, "Revisiting books: An Earthquake Shatters Expectations in The Caravaggio Conspiracy", May 18, 2012;

Laura Fandino, "ARCA 2013 Conference: James Moore on the stolen Palermo Nativity by Caravaggio ...", August 25, 2013;

In regards to a theft of another Caravaggio painting:

Sezgin, "Rev. Dr. Marius Zerafa Spoke on "The Theft and Ransom of Caravaggio's "St. Jerome Writing", Co-Cathedral of St. John" at ARCA's Sixth Annual Interdisciplinary Art Crime Conference" July 10, 2014;

Sezgin, "Father Zerafa's recommended reading on Caravaggio's Stolen Palermo Nativity -- and his memory of visiting the painting in the S Lorenzo Chapel",  July 17, 2014.

July 2, 2015

Sicily, Palermo, Cicero, and a missing Caravaggio ...

Cicero's bust in the Musei Capitolini
 ["Cicero - Musei Capitolini"
 by Glauco92 - Own work.
 Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
 via Wikimedia Commons].jpg
by Judge Arthur Tompkins

This year's visit to Ameliai, Umbria, for ARCA's Art Crime and Cultural Heritage course saw a visit, during a break in teaching duties, to Sicily. Apart from the obvious reasons to visit (I'd never been before, and it being a slightly mythical, Godfather-producing place, and all) two art crime-related reasons spurred my presence in the centuries old, culturally diverse, vibrant and slightly shambolic ancient metropolis. 

The first was that about 20 centuries ago, a Roman magistrate named Gaius Verres came to Palermo as governor. During an energetically corrupt, roughly two-year tenure, he managed to plunder and loot and steal his way through whole swathes of Sicilian culture and art and heritage.  

"Michelangelo Caravaggio, Nativity with
 San Francesco and San Lorenzo"

Fated ever to be the long suffering populace (in the coming centuries, they were to be ruled by - not necessary in this order, or at least always not in a lineally ordered sequence - the Romans, the Vandals, the Goths, the Byzantines, the Arabs, the Normans, the Angevins and the Aragonese, the Bourbons, the Savoys, and finally, the Italians), Verres' larceny proved too much even for the stoical Sicilians. They hired a young and ambitious lawyer in Rome, one Marcus Tullius Cicero, to prosecute the erstwhile governor. And prosecute him Cicero did, vigorously and famously, in the Senate, by way of a series of speeches later known to history collectively as the Verrines. Such was the power of his prosecutorial oratory, after the first speech was delivered to a likely enthusiastic Roman crowd and Senate, Verres fled into exile. He never returned to Rome.

Cicero's Verrines have echoed down the centuries, as exemplars of oratory, of writing, of prosecutorial precedent and, coincidentally, of informative travel-writing. Conceptually, in part they embody and express a fundamental idea that underpins so much of our cultural heritage protection thinking now, the idea that art and culture and heritage belongs not just to the immediate possessor or the country in which accidental history consigns it, but to all humankind.

So I wanted to walk the same ground as had the notorious Gaius Verres, and which had occasioned Cicero's oratory.

Via Vittoria Emanuele, Palermo, Sicily [Arthur Tompkins].jpg
The second reason is that Palermo is the site of one of the great unsolved art crimes. In 1609 Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was on the run from the authorities in Rome. He had been Naples and in Malta, but in late 1608 he had washed up in Sicily. According to one account, he spent a year here, "sleeping fitfully with a dagger by his side, and painting several late [although I guess he would probably have thought of them as early to mid career] masterpieces".

One of them was the large and dramatic Nativity with San Lorenzo and San Francesco. For about 350 years the canvas hung undisturbed above the altar in the Oratorio di San Lorenzo, just off the main Via Vittorio Emanuele in downtown Palermo.

Then in October 1969 it was stolen.  It has never been seen since. Varying accounts have it still in hiding somewhere, burnt, rotted, eaten by rats, or indeed fed to swine (by swine, one might think ...).

I wanted to see where it should still be.

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.

July 12, 2014

Daniel Silva's new fictional book "The Heist" begins with a promise to reveal the fate of Caravaggio's "The Nativity" stolen in 1969 from a church in Palermo

Caravaggio's Nativity (Palermo)
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Daniel Silva, author of 14 books featuring the art restorer-Israeili assassin Gabriel Alon, features the theft of Caravaggio's Nativity in his new book, The Heist, to be published July 15. The book begins with:
On October 18, 1969, Caravaggio’s Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence vanished from the Oratorio di San Lorenzo in Palermo, Sicily. The Nativity, as it is commonly known, is one of Caravaggio’s last great masterworks, painted in 1609 while he was a fugitive from justice, wanted by papal authorities in Rome for killing a man during a swordfight. For more than four decades, the altarpiece has been the most sought-after stolen painting in the world, and yet its exact whereabouts, even its fate, have remained a mystery. Until now…
In 2009, Judith Harris wrote for the ARCABlog about "breaking news" on the stolen Caravaggio Palmero Nativity that the mafia, who allegedly had stolen the painting, had destroyed the painting through neglect. Another source in 2012 also claimed that the painting had been eaten by pigs.

British author Peter Watson wrote in The Caravaggio Conspiracy that if it weren't for an earthquake he might have been able to recover Caravaggio's Nativity in 1980. Here's a link to Watson's description of Italy's famous art investigator, Rodolfo Siviero.

James Moore, a retired trial lawyer and a student of art history, presented on the theft of Caravaggio's The Nativity from Palermo at the 2013 ARCA Conference in Amelia.

Daniel Silva's 2009 book, The Defector, featured a bakery in Amelia (the Umbrian town north of Rome which hosts ARCA's Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Preservation).

Tanya Lervik, an ARCA Alum, listened to Daniel Silva speak in Washington D.C. last year on his last Gabriel Allon book, The English Girl.

May 10, 2012

More confirmation of old news? Pietro Grasso, head of the anti-Mafia crime unit, confirms in May that Caravaggio's Nativity of Palermo eaten by pigs

Caravaggio's Nativity from Palermo
In 2009, Judith Harris wrote for the ARCA blog a post titled "Breaking News on the Stolen Caravaggio Nativity" that a member of the mafia told law officials that the painting was likely destroyed in the 1980s.  But just last week, Journalist Noel Grima for The Malta Independent online reported May 6th that Pietro Grasso, the head of the anti-Mafia crime unit, confirmed again that legal authorities believe that the Caravaggio of Palermo has been eaten by pigs.

Possibly no one wants to believe that the painting has been so carelessly destroyed; the FBI and Interpol still list the painting as stolen and missing.

Grima repeats a formerly published article in eosarte.eu "Arezzo, il Procuratore antimafia Pietro Grasso: il Caravaggio di Palermo mangiato dai porci" dated April 22 reports that Grasso confirmed during a press conference earlier rumors that the Nativity paintings with Saints Lorenzo and Francis of Assisi has likely been tossed around by criminals and ended up in a pig sty and eaten by rats and pigs over the years.
"Ci verrobbe tempo perché è una lunga storia ... ma riteniamo che il quadro sia finito nelle mani di ignoranti che l'hanno hascosto in una porcilaia, dove magari porci poi se lo sono mangiato."
Grima translates:
The anti-Mafia's head's reply was a chilling one: "We need more time because the situation is rather complicated, but we believe the painting ended up in the hands of ignorant people who hit it in a pigsty where the pigs ate it."
The Malta connected dates back to the 17th century when the artist was imprisoned there.  Caravaggio himself lead a tumultuous lifestyle documented in Italian police records.

Grima claims that a painting similar to The "Nativity" by Caravaggio would be worth $200 million while the FBI website estimates the value at $20 million.

In October 1969, two thieves entered the Oratory of San Lorenzo in Palmero, Italy, according to the FBI, and removed Caravaggio's Nativity with San Lorenzo and San Francesco from its frame.

Interpol still reports the painting as missing on its stolen art database and places the date of the theft as October 18, 1969.  Interpol lists nine other works by Caravaggio (or from the school of or in the manner of) as stolen: Portrait of an Old Woman, Montepulciano, Italy, December 22, 1970; Doubting Tomas from Frascati, Italy, March 15, 1974; Beggars and Invalids (copper painting) from San Sebastian, Spain, April 1978; Man with a Pendant Earring, The Draughts Players, and Venice Feeding the Cupids, from La Storta, Italy, December 1, 1979; Saint Gerolamo, from Dozza, Italy, June 4, 1985; Two Men Playing Dice, from Lessona, Italy, July 27, 1986; and Los Jugadores from Santa Fe de Bogata, Colombia, October 24, 1999.