(b. 1571, Caravaggio, d. 1610, Porto Ercole)

Adoration of the Shepherds

Oil on canvas, 314 x 211 cm
Museo Regionale, Messina

While in Messina, Caravaggio was contracted to paint four scenes of the Passion. If he finished any of them, nothing now survives. This nativity scene, Susinno says, was ordered by the Senate of Messina for the Capuchin church of Santa Maria degli Angeli. A Franciscan simplicity pervades it: in the wooden barn a donkey and an ox stand patiently at the back, there is straw on the floor and in a basket the Holy Family have a loaf of bread, the carpenter's tools of Joseph and some pieces of cloth. Joseph (in red) introduces the shepherds, in brown and grey, to the young Virgin Mother, whose dress is a brighter red. Mary cuddles her baby peacefully and, apart from two haloes, only the bare-shouldered young man, who kneels with clasped hands, gives the moment of the child's discovery a hint of its meaning. God became man as one of the poor. Ironically, for this canvas Caravaggio received 1000 scudi, the highest amount mentioned in any accounts of his career.