Caravaggio in Ortygia, Sicily
When Caravaggio trespassed the Ortygia urbanways, he was thinking of Lucy. People flock to Ortygia to walk along via Cavour until it surrenders its shade. I have shared it with students filling it to the brim, and then watched as they burst into the sun drenched Piazza Duomo to walk on the sandstone paving, and be surrounded by the Baroque facades of the Cathedral and the aristocratic buildings.
Tour guides to tourists, teachers to students, the waves to the swallows, whisper the name Caravaggio. On commission to paint the martyrdom of Saint Lucy, Caravaggio visited the limestone cliffs outside Ortygia, near the Ancient Greek theatre. There he entered a cave that is metres high, whose entrance is hidden by a garden. Upon hearing the voices of the prisoners of the tyrant Dionysius I, he named it “the Ear of Dionysius.” Caravaggio also visited the Catacombs of Saint John, beneath the earth.
Inside the church of Santa Lucia alla Badia at the farther end of Piazza Duomo, visitors behold Caravaggio’s painting ‘Burial of Saint Lucy’. Before the sight of Lucy, who is supine, and her mother, who is kneeling and clasping her face, overlooked by muscular men ready for the burial, they succumb to silence, as if in an art gallery. Breath, and perhaps even the beat of the heart, are suspended. The students let no whisper escape as their gaze, like mine, is fixed on the young priest with an unrestrained, red sash.
As master of the chiaroscuro, Caravaggio made play of light, which invigorated the dark recesses that he explored. In a Caravaggio painting even the humblest person is illuminated. Light falls on their face, robes and body. While the body is earth bound and the gaze luminous, the human soul is given a hint of grace, a window to their divinity.
Once outside, the students hunt for a souvenir, unaware that they are the bearers of Caravaggio’s light.