(b. 1638, Vittoriosa, d. 1667, Roma)
St Thomas of Villanovabegun 1663
Marble, over life-size
Cafà made a notable contribution to sculpted altars with this group, which was begun in 1663 for the Roman church of Sant'Agostino. The work was to replace an earlier painting of the same subject by Giovanni Francesco Romanelli, so an element of competition between painting and sculpture may have featured in the project.
Cafà envisaged an altar in which the saint stands in his niche and distributes alms to a woman and small children beneath who symbolize charity. This central tableau is surmounted by God the Father with angels, a work contributed by Ercole Ferrata, and flanked by relief of scenes from the life of the saint, executed much later by Andrea Bergondi (active 1743-1789). A surviving bozzetto reveals that the saint was sculpted according to Cafà's intentions, but death prevented him from addressing the figures below. This task fell to Ferrata who translated Cafà's sculptural poetry into more mundane prose. The finished group is more restrained as well as scaled down.