The Seven Works of Mercy

Love between Astrology and Natural Generosity in the Naples of Tommaso Campanella

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This article offers a new interpretation of Caravaggio’s The Seven Works of Mercy by reading the seminal baroque painting through the lens of its context of production. Commissioned by the philanthropic association of the Pio Monte del Misericordia, Caravaggio’s artwork is therefore used as a gateway to the philosophical, religious and astrological beliefs of its members. While shedding light on the wider circulation of ideas on caritas and natural magic for which Tommaso Campanella would be a benchmark figure, the article reconciles previous interpretations of the painting that had portrayed Caravaggio as either the painter of nature or the heterodox virtuoso of symbols. By reframing these two levels of analysis as components of a symbiotic, rather than mutually exclusive relationship, the article illuminates the tenacity of pagan references, pauperist religious movements and astrological beliefs in the cultural debate of early seventeenth-century Naples.

Aries

Journal for the Study of Western Esotericism

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References

4

Fagiolo dell’Arco, Le Opere di Misericordia, 23–30.

7

Fulco, ‘Il fascino del recluso e la Sirena carceriera’, 33–56.

8

Bassani & Bellini, Caravaggio assassino, 184–187; Calvesi, La realtà del Caravaggio, 348–352; Graham-Dixon, Caravaggio, 191–357. While Bassani, Bellini and Calvesi have hypothesized Paul V’s hostility towards Caravaggio as a main reason for Caravaggio’s departure, Graham-Dixon has been less adamant on the position assumed by Paul V.

12

Bologna, L’incredulità del Caravaggio, 223–224; Langdon, Caravaggio, 324–329; Loredana Gazzara, ‘Fonti inedite sulla fondazione del Pio Monte della Misericordia: una lettura interpretativa’ in: Il Pio Monte della Misericordia, 215–227; 223. It is particularly thanks to Loredana Gazzara that we can identify Manso as commissioner, and situate him within the Neapolitan cultural context. Therefore, my description of Manso’s contribution partly reproduces hers.

14

Manfredi, Gio Battista Manso, 142.

15

Ibid., 143.

17

Manfredi, Gio Battista Manso, 101–111.

18

Lopez, Inquisizione, 178–180.

19

Gazzara, ‘Fonti Inedite’, 217.

20

Ibid., 216.

21

Badaloni, ‘I fratelli Della Porta’, 677–715.

22

See for instance, Tommaso Campanella, The City of the Sun, 115.

23

N. Badaloni, ‘I fratelli Della Porta’, 682.

24

Ibid., 687.

26

Badaloni, ‘I fratelli Della Porta’, 685.

28

R. Bassani & F. Bellini, Caravaggio assassino, 181–187.

33

Ernst, Tommaso Campanella, 176–177.

36

Ibid., 31–34.

37

Ibid., 34–48.

38

Ibid., 61–62.

39

Calvesi, La realtà del Caravaggio, 355–362.

41

Costanza Caraffa, ‘Ex purgatorij poenis ad aeternum’, 119–131.

42

Ibid., 120 (my translation).

43

Ibid., 121 (my translation).

47

Badaloni, ‘I fratelli Della Porta’, 685.

48

Gazzara, ‘Fonti inedited’, 215.

50

See also, Carolyn Lund-Mead, ‘Dido Alighieri. Gender Inversion in the Francesca Episode’, 121–150.

51

Ibid., 140.

53

See Everart, Ephemerides Novae et Exactae, 672.

Figures

  • Figure 1

    Caravaggio (1571–1610), The Seven Works of Mercy (c. 1607)

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