The Guardian of Mercy: How an Extraordinary Painting by Caravaggio Changed an Ordinary Life Today

Terence Ward. Skyhorse/Arcade (Perseus, dist.), $24.99 (200p) ISBN 978-1-62872-592-6
The second book by Ward (Searching for Hassan) belongs to an eclectic mix of genres: it’s a travel memoir, an art history treatise, and a journalistic sketch of modern-day Naples. Ward—who lives in Florence for part of each year—traveled to Naples in the early 2000s with his wife, Idanna. There, the pair stumbled upon a masterpiece hidden in the back of a small church called Pio Monte della Misericordia. Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio’s The Seven Acts of Mercy was commissioned as propaganda for the church’s charitable brotherhood, but Caravaggio took liberties with his depictions of mercy, using beggars, street fighters, and ordinary passersby on the streets to act as his models. Ward weaves the story of Caravaggio—who was accused of several counts of murder and condemned to a death sentence by the pope, and who eventually died a mysterious, lonely death—with the contemporary story of a guard named Angelo Esposito stationed at Pio Monte della Misericordia. Esposito, a passionate sanitation worker turned Caravaggio disciple, shows the couple deeper layers of both the painting and the city that he calls home. Ward’s writing is laden by over-the-top descriptions (e.g.,“Each meal became a cornucopia of delicacies, breaking new ground”), but the story is strangely compelling and educational—a charming departure from the typical narrative of art history. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 12/21/2015
Release date: 02/01/2016
Genre: Nonfiction
MP3 CD - 978-1-5436-0635-5
Paperback - 216 pages - 978-1-62872-818-7
Hardcover - 978-1-62872-630-5
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