The Seven Works of Mercy

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

In: Aries
Alessandro Giardino St. Lawrence University

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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.

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