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The Madonna of Loreto by Caravaggio is an oil on canvas painting that hangs at the Cavalletti Chapel at the Church of Sant’ Agostino in Rome.
Also known as the Madonna of the Pilgrims, the devotional piece was commissioned by Ermete Cavaletti in 1603.
The painting depicts Madonna and Child interacting with pilgrims. The pilgrims seem to be peasants, with a bare foot old man and an old woman who are kneeling before Mary and baby Jesus.
Mary seems to be standing on what looks like the doorstep of Sant’ Agostino, which can be signify the entrance of the church, or as a symbolical representation of the doorway to heaven. The light from the house illuminates the two peasants. Baby Jesus sits on Mary’s right hip with her hand firmly holding his back.
Baby Jesus seems to stretch out his right hand as if blessing the two peasants. While Mary’s skin reflects on the moonlight, we can’t clearly make the face of baby Jesus, but just the right side of his puffed cheeks, bridge of his nose and his ear.
Further examination on the piece shows that Madonna seems to be floating as she stands prominently only on her tip-toes, while the pilgrims are convincingly displayed as occupying their respective spaces firmly on earth. Christ is believed to have been born and spent his childhood at the Holy House, which was miraculously transported in the 13th century from Nazareth to Loreto in Italy via Croatia.
A massive basilica was built around the Holy House, which became a famous destination for pilgrims coming to pay homage to the Holy House. There is also a statue in this shrine that shows Madonna looking down, which may also seem to imply that she is floating, and thus looking down.
The Madonna of Loreto painting caused uproar right after it was produced. It was against Paleotti’s rule to depict saints as engaging in ordinary activities.
Some perceived that Caravaggio was depicting Madonna holding baby Jesus outside a door as an ordinary house wife, and thus did not see it as okay since she was considered a saint. In addition, the pilgrims in their bare and filthy feet seemed not to go well with the elite of the city, as it reminded them of the poverty that was rocking the already crowded city.
Furthermore, the fact that Lena Antognetti, a well-known courtesan modelled the Madonna instead of representing saints as attractive and recognizable people did not go well with many.
However, Caravaggio managed to get away with the critics he was facing which was unheard of during his time. The result is that his courage to paint in what he truly believed in, made his painting one of the most famous as compared to another by Carracci at Sant' Onofrio, an artist known for toeing the line.