Caravaggio, the dramatic and now greatly admired Italian artist of the 16th and 17th centuries, was on the run when he painted the Nativity with Saints Francis and Lawrence in Palermo in 1609.  A year later he was dead. 

The painting he left behind, and the mystery of its disappearance has become a metaphor for the city: the work itself a powerful masterpiece, one of Sicily’s most valuable works of art; its disappearance, a tale of  darkness, intrigue and uncertainty. 

Until October 1969, this huge painting of the Nativity, 268cm x 197cm (8’10” x 6’6”), hung above the altar in the Oratorio of S. Lorenzo in via Immacolata di S. Francesco, a narrow street in Palermo’s historical centre.  At that time, the streets  surrounding the Oratorio were neglected, dark and virtually empty; the  power of the Mafia was strong.  The Oratorio opened only for Mass on Sundays, and the painting was virtually unprotected.  

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