"The seven works of Mercy" was commissioned to Caravaggio by seven young Neapolitan aristocrats who set up Pio Monte della Misericordia (Pious Mount of Mercy) in 1601. The aim of the charity institution was to minister to the sick and help those in need and, for this reason, the young aristocrats commissioned the construction of a small church quite close to the Duomo, Naples’s cathedral. It is exactly on the high altar of this church that the "Seven works" by Caravaggio is housed.
The oil painting, ca1607, depicts the Catholic belief of the seven works of mercy: to bury the dead, to visit the imprisoned, to feed the hungry, to shelter the homeless, to clothe the naked, to visit the sick, and to refresh the thirsty. In his majestic work Caravaggio has managed to include all of them in one single composition full of symbolism and drama. The top of the painting is dedicated to the Virgin Mary who, together with an infant Jesus and supported by two angels, represents mercy and compassion.
Caravaggio’s work is not the only composition in Pio Monte della Misericordia: important Neapolitan painters have decorated the remaining walls of the octagonal-shaped church with other paintings dedicated to the theme of the seven works of mercy. It is, however, indisputable that Caravaggio’s work steals the show thanks to the painter’s dramatic use of chiaroscuro, his dominant stylistic element. As much as the painting is immensely beautiful, I must say that, unfortunately, the position and the lightening make it difficult to properly enjoy it. The painting is, in fact, better seen from the “coretto” (little choir) in the first floor of the adjacent art gallery (see the picture above).
Elsewhere I’ve written about my favourite 5 top picks for a satisfying tour of the city. I must say that I feel to add Pio Monte della Misericordia to them. The visit, apart from the beauty of “The seven works of mercy” by Caravaggio, was absolutely worth it. The adjacent art-gallery was a pleasant surprise to me and the possibility to listen to the thorough explanations of the audio guide (available for free on izi.TRAVEL app) definitely increased my interest and level of curiosity.
A visit to Pio Monte della Misericordia and its magnificent “Seven works of Mercy” is a must for everyone who wants to discover a sort of “alternative classic” of Naples, house to a work by one of the most incredible and talented painters of all time: Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio.