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Caravaggio Lazarus Painting Rises From Dead
Art experts have restored one of Caravaggio's most famous paintings, the Raising of Lazarus, to its former glory.
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio painted the masterpiece in 1609 and it was one of his last works before he died.
He had lived a tumultuous life - spent partly on the run after possibly unintentionally killing a rival in a tennis match.
The Biblical painting is a vivid example of the artist's dramatic use of lighting in what has become known as his chiaroscuro (clear dark) style.
Experts painstakingly restored the painting over seven months in a workshop in the Superior Central Institute of Restoration in Rome, at a cost of more than £90,000.
The painting itself is thought to be worth at least £10m.
The picture is painted in dark and moody brushstrokes, with striking images of the characters set against a pitch black backdrop.
Wealthy Genoese merchant Giovan Battista de' Lazzari commissioned the work for his chapel in the church of the Crocifieri in Messina on the Italian island of Sicily.
The artist was paid 1,000 scudi - double what he had been paid for previous works.
It took Caravaggio just a few weeks to complete and is noted as being one of his most rushed works.
Legend has it that he based the body of Lazarus on a real corpse that he had exhumed from graveyard in Sicily, where he had fled from Malta after being involved in a brawl with a knight.
He had been living in Malta for three years since arriving in 1606, after he was forced to flee from Rome following a fight at the end of a tennis match in which he fatally stabbed his opponent.
Since arriving in Rome from his native Caravaggio near Milan, the artist's life had been characterised with a catalogue of brawls and sword fights - although he received numerous commissions for his works.
When Caravaggio fled the city following the brawl, Pope Paul V signed a death warrant for him.
Helen Langdon, a noted Caravaggio expert, wrote of the work: "His great Sicilian altarpieces isolate their shadowy, pitifully poor figures in vast areas of darkness; they suggest the desperate fears and frailty of man, and at the same time convey, with a new, yet desolate tenderness, the beauty of humility and of the meek, who shall inherit the earth."
Lazarus was the brother of Martha and Mary.
According to the Gospel of St John, he fell sick and died while Christ was on his way to visit him.
When Christ arrives Lazarus has already been in his tomb for four days.
Despite protests from Martha, Jesus orders his dead friend out of the tomb.
He then appears, to the amazement of onlookers.
In Caravaggio's painting Christ's hand can be seen pointing to Lazarus.
Critics have commented on how the index figure is strikingly similar to the image in Michelangelo's Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel.
Another characteristic of the painting is the figure above the arm of Christ, with his hands folded in prayer and who is said to be a self portrait of Caravaggio.
The painting goes on display for a month in Rome before returning to its "natural home of Messina" and it was unveiled at a packed press conference in the Italian capital.
Experts explained how it had been restored several times during the last four centuries, the first in 1670, just 50 years after Caravaggio painted it and again in 1820 and 1919, with the last clean up taking place in 1951.
Chief restorer Anna Marcone said: "The dark colour of the painting was its first misfortune as over the centuries people tried as hard as they could to lighten it and as a result the work really suffered.
"The work was painted at the end of Caravaggio's life, in a tragic period when he was on the run between Malta and Sicily and he had little time to finish it.
"The painting has suffered a great deal because of the various restorations but we are delighted with the seven months' work that has restored the painting as best as possible to how it originally was."
Caravaggio eventually died in 1610, aged just 39-years-old, in Porto Ercole, north of Rome, and two years ago historians discovered what was believed to be his tomb in a 400-year-old abandoned church.
Theories for his death range from him contracting syphilis, that he died from sunstroke or that he was himself murdered by rivals.
Despite his artistic fame Caravaggio's final resting place was never recorded and he was thought to have been buried in an unmarked common grave.