Vanessa Beecroft Placed a Tribute to a Stolen Caravaggio in Italy

Vanessa Beecroft Placed a Tribute to a Stolen Caravaggio, in the Sicilian Church Where It Was Stolen 54 Years Ago.

Dec 27, 2022By Angela Davic, News, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and Analysis
Vanessa Beecroft
Emilio Isgrò’s Nativity commission for the Oratorio. Courtesy of the Amici dei Musei Siciliani


Vanessa Beecroft is an Italian artist. Beecroft decided to install a tribute to a lost Caravaggio painting. The painting disappeared 54 years ago from the Sicilian Church. The church held one of Sicily‘s two Caravaggios. The painting remained there from 1600 till three and a half centuries later.


Vanessa Beecroft – First International Artist to Construct a New Work

Vanessa Beecroft
The Oratory of Saint Lawrence in Palermo. Courtesy of the Amici dei Musei Siciliani


The name of Caravaggio‘s painting is a Nativity With Saints Lawrence and Francis of Assisi. The painting is also second on the FBI’s list of the most wanted pieces of art (after looted Iraqi artifacts). Cosa Nostra informants also had contrasting claims. They said somebody wrapped up the picture so tightly that the oil paint split. Also, that it is used as a floor mat, or cut into little pieces and fed to pigs.


Those allegations only add up to the mystery about the location, and the conditions of its disappearance. The 2015 saw the installation of a high-tech photographic duplicate inside the original frame. It led to the restoring of some integrity to the inside of the Oratory. Vanessa Beecroft unveiled a fresh piece of art within the Oratory on Christmas Eve after Midnight Mass.


Vanessa Beecroft
Vanessa Beecroft’s Nativity commission for the Oratorio. Courtesy of the Amici dei Musei Siciliani


Vanessa Beecfroft’s installation pays tribute to the lost painting. The Italian artist who lives and works in Los Angeles also has a history with this city. In 2008, she produced a show with live models. She also came back to the capital of Sicily to produce VB94, one of her Tableaux vivants.

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Since 2010, Bernardo Tortorici di Raffadali, the organization’s president, calls a different modern artist to interpret the missing Caravaggio. This is a part of the initiative called NEXT. Artists usually have a freedom of interpretation, but with one restriction. The contemporary item must fit within the frame above the altar, while maintaining the original measurements. Beecroft represents the Oratory’s first internationally acclaimed artist to construct a new work.


Beecroft’s Version of the Scene Involves a Important Alteration

Oratorio di San Lorenzo
Oratorio di San Lorenzo


Vanessa Beecoft spoke about the invitation. “I am so honored for being chosen for this wonderful initiative”, Beecroft said in a statement. “After VB94, it is a pleasure to return to Palermo, a city that has shown a warm welcome, and a deep understanding of my work.”


Beecroft’s version of the nativity scene involves a subtle but important alteration. She envelops the images of Saint Lawrence and Saint Francis in her photographic recreation. Also, darkness surrounds Joseph and a male pilgrim. Mary, infant Jesus, and a figure representing the Holy Spirit, on the other hand, are all surrounded by light.


“With my Nativity, I want to respect the iconography of Caravaggio“, Beecroft said. “I therefore chose to leave the Divine in the light, and to overshadow the human figures of this artwork.” The Amici dei Musei Siciliani president, Bernardo Tortorici di Raffadali, praised the artist for tackling “the enormous figure of Caravaggio, as well as his absence.” He described the art commission as “a sort of a ritual omen, in the hope that it can be a propitiatory action for the recovery of the stolen masterpiece.”

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By Angela DavicNews, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and AnalysisAngela is a journalism student at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade and received a scholarship for continued education in Prague. She completed her internship at the daily newspaper DANAS and worked as an executive editor at Talas.