Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Burial of Santa Lucia

Santa Lucia is the patron saint of Siracusa. For those who don't know her story, she gave all her money to the poor after her mother was healed at Santa Agatha's tomb. The money had been intended for her dowry, but she broke the engagement and offered her chastity to God, which of course didn't sit well with her pagan groom. He denounced her as a Christian, and the Governor of Siracusa, the local ruler during the Emperor Diocletian's persecution of Christians, sentenced her to be deflowered in a brothel. But no one could move her. They tried oxen, witchcraft, and a thousand men, but still she stood immobile. They even tried burning her, which failed. So they pried her eyes out with a fork and finally killed her with a knife in the throat. This happened in Siracusa in 304 A.D.

When Caravaggio arrived in town, his first major commission was for the church that had been built on the site of her death. The most common theme of paintings of Santa Lucia was to depict her martyrdom, but Caravaggio decided to paint her burial. The figures are huddled into the bottom half of the canvas, leaving a vast, dark, empty weight above them, and most of that lower portion is given to the hulking gravediggers and the armored soldier, each seemingly twice the size of the mourners. Caravaggio's tragic religious paintings often featured the workmen, the laborers.

Near the Ear of Dionysius in the hills of Siracusa are the Crypt of San Marciano and the 10,000-square-meter catacombs of San Giovanni. Caravaggio would have visited these places while working on the painting. You can see from my photos below that his setting for the Burial of Santa Lucia was not only influenced by the crypt and catacombs, but perhaps he even set up his studio there.

1 comment: