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    Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna

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    Madonna of the Rosary

    The Madonna of the Rosary is the only altar painting by Caravaggio where the date is not supported by documentation, where the commissioner, although he appears on the painting, is unknown and where the intended home is a mystery.

    This large-scale piece (3.6m x 2.5m) probably comes from Caravaggio’s Romanesque period between 1590 and 1606. It shows the legend of St. Dominic, founder of the Dominican Order, from 1208, when the Madonna appears to him and presents him with the rosary as a weapon of faith. Mary and Jesus are enthroned in the centre of Caravaggio’s work. On her right St. Dominic hands out rosaries to the believers, on her left stands St. Peter the Martyr, recognisable by his head wound. Directly behind him are 2 unidentified members of the Dominican Order.

    The top of the painting is dominated by a vibrant red cloth, draped artistically around the pillar on the left. In the foreground 3 barefooted men and a woman with her child are pressing towards St. Dominic. The 2 older men are fully clothed; the young man in front just wears a piece of cloth. All 3 are reaching to receive the rosary from St. Dominic. At the left edge of the painting an elegant man in black with a white ruff is kneeling among the believers. This is presumably Caravaggio’s portrait of the painting’s commissioner. The work is acquired by Emperor Joseph II for the imperial art gallery in Vienna in 1781.