Caravaggio stood in Naples a second time, starting in 1609. Of his second Neapolitan period the only work remained to the city is the Martyrdom of Saint Ursula, his last painting. It was made for the Genoese banker Marcantonio Doria, whose family believed to be blessed from Saint Ursula.
In this case too Caravaggio entirely alters the classic iconography, to the point that for his peers the subject wasn’t immediateley recognizable.
Here we have Attila the despot while he pierces the virgin Ursula, guilty of refusing his courting. The livid color of her skin forsees her death, but she looks resigned, almost detached, as if she were already above wordly dramas. Next to the woman, besides the ruler of the Huns who seems horrified by his own act, there are three men, his subjects; one of them has Caravaggio’s looks. His shocked face is a statement of the artist’s emotional involvement before the tragedy that’s taking place.
As in the previous ones, in this painting too the chromatic contrast is strong, but here it looks like the artist gave more room to the dark tones which add more drama to the scene. According to some critics this choice also proves that Caravaggio himself was going through difficult times.
Since he was sentenced to death, the artist was in the process of obtaing clemency. Hence he left Naples in such a hurry that on the day of his departure the canvas had not even dried yet.
Anyway Caravaggio didn’t make it on time to get the Pope’s mercy. He died while traveling, in circumstances that as of today are still not entirely clear.
Palazzo Zevallos in via Toledo n° 185 is where you can find this painting. It opens from Tuesday to Friday, from 10:00 to 18:00 and during the week end from 10:00 to 20:00.
The ticket costs 5€.