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.
Bassani & BelliniCaravaggio assassino184–187; 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.
BolognaL’incredulità del Caravaggio223–224; 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.