The Seven Works of Mercy Caravaggio Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Caravaggio's principle successes came when he moved to Rome in 1592, beginning his career proper with a series of commissions for the Contarelli Chapel in the San Luigi dei Francesi Church in Rome.

The first of these commissions—the Martyrdom of Saint Matthew and Calling of Saint Matthew—were an immediate success when delivered to the Chapel in 1600. Many fellow painters, art critics and religious figures both praised and deplored Caravaggio's style.

In particular, his use of dramatic light was deemed vivid and visionary, but many members of the Catholic Church saw his use of realism as belittling to the grandiose subjects of the Bible. All of these are at work in The Seven Works of Mercy, a painting completed by Caravaggio around 1607.

The painting was completed in Naples for the Church of Pio Monte della Misericordia after fleeing Rome. It depicts the seven corporal works of mercy held in the traditional Catholic belief system, underscoring seven compassionate acts that display the bedrock of human empathy.

Among The Seven Works of Mercy's acts are: burying the dead, visiting the imprisoned, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the poor and naked, visiting the sick and quenching the thirsty.

The painting is drowned in surrounding darkness with the figures emerging in light and colour through Caravaggio's stylised chiaroscuro. Some have attributed this use of light as symbolic of mercy, with each act rewarded by light.

Although the painting is a single composition alike a tableaux, it was commissioned as separate panels around the church. Instead, this work can be found on the Pio Monte della Misericordia church's altarpiece.