Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, (1571 – 1610)
The Adoration of the Shepherds
Oil on canvas, 1609
314 cm × 211 cm (124 in × 83 in)
Museo Regionale, Messina, Sicily, Italy
While in Messina, Caravaggio was contracted to paint four scenes of the Passion. If he finished any of them, none now survive. This nativity scene, Susinno says, was ordered by the Senate of Messina for the Capuchin church of Santa Maria degli Angeli.
A Franciscan simplicity pervades the painting. In the wooden barn a donkey and an ox stand patiently at the back, there is straw on the floor and in a basket is a loaf of bread, the carpenter's tools of Joseph and some pieces of cloth. Joseph (in red) introduces the shepherds, in brown and grey, to the young Virgin Mother, whose dress is a brighter red. Mary cuddles her baby peacefully and, apart two haloes, only the bare-shouldered young man, who kneels with clasped hands, gives the moment of the child's discovery a hint of its meaning — God became man as one of the poor.
Ironically, for this canvas Caravaggio received 1000 scudi, the highest amount mentioned in any accounts of his career.