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

Burial of St Lucy

Oil on canvas, 408 x 300 cm
Bellomo Museum, Syracuse

St Lucy was a local saint of Syracuse, who had been denounced as a Christian by her former suitor and had died from her tortures in 304. Caravaggio may have worked in haste to produce a picture before the feast of St Lucy on 13 December. His Sicilian biographer states that he owed the commission to his friend Minniti, who may also have helped him paint it.

Originally Lucy's head was severed from her body but later Caravaggio joined it and left just a slit in the front of her neck - perhaps recalling St Cecilia, whose still-intact body, with a gash in the nape of the neck, had been sculpted in 1600 by Maderno. A more local influence was the crypt of the Syracusan church where Lucy had been buried, for cavernous spaces dwarf the human actors.

The heavily-muscled grave-diggers emerge from murky shadows, the mourners are so much smaller that they seem placed some distance away, the officer directing operations beside the bishop is obscured and only the young man above the saint stands out poignantly in his red cloak. Characteristically, light imitates the action of the sun by falling from the right. The scene takes the viewer back to the age of the Church of the catacombs.

The painting was recently restored at the Istituto Centrale per il Restauro in Rome (all Caravaggio's Sicilian paintings have come down to us in a poor state of preservation) and transferred from the Basilica di Santa Lucia al Sepolcro to the Bellomo Museum in Syracuse.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.