Michelangelo Caravaggio, the great Baroque painter of the seventeenth century, was always an artist under scrutiny. His style, the subject matter of his paintings, and how he chose to depict his subjects, was often criticized and rejected by his patrons. In a journal article written by Troy Thomas, entitled "Expressive Aspects of Caravaggio's First Inspiration of Saint Matthew", these rejected paintings are discussed. The article focuses on the themes of these rejected works, but namely Inspiration of St. Matthew, and uses these themes to prove the work's validity. This painting is compared and contrasted to other similar, accepted works of the time as well, to help show that the work was not done in bad taste.
Commissioned by Francesco Contarelli for the Church of San Luigi, Caravaggio's first attempt at portraying the Inspiration of Saint Matthew was rejected by the patrons for a few reasons that all underlined the dictates of the Council of Trent. The opinion of the church officials was that the painting did not express the necessary level of decorum for religious artwork: Saint Matthew's bare feet are displayed for all to see, he looks old and wrinkled, and the expression on his face expresses a certain illiteracy or ignorance. The angel, an androgynous and erotic figure, leans on Matthew and physically guides his hand to write the Hebrew script. This action was thought to depict Matthew as stupid, and unable to write at all without the direct guidance of the angel. The befuddled expression on the Saint's face also added to this impression of illiteracy.
In his article, Troy Thomas discusses these reasons for rejection, and uses alternate interpretations of them to validate Caravaggio's work. First, the i.
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. that he had worn in Caravaggio's Calling of Saint Matthew, and embrace the ascetic life of an apostle.
In my opinion, the above are all reasons to accept the Inspiration of Saint Matthew as a valid religious work. I agree with the author, and I believe that its expressive qualities make it an exceptional piece for a church, as it inspires the very themes in its viewers that Matthew personifies. Historically, Caravaggio's works have been criticized mercilessly, and his patrons were known to insist on revised versions of his paintings. I believe that it is Caravaggio's aggressively real style that lends an intense power, and a strong presence to his paintings. If his unconventional approach had been studied with more of an open mind, and embraced by patrons, I'm sure that he would have been able to truly express himself, which is art in its purest form.
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The Calling of St Matthew (Caravaggio)
title=The Calling of Saint Matthew
type=Oil on canvas
museum=San Luigi dei Francesi
"The Calling of Saint Matthew " is a masterpiece by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio completed in 1599-1600 for the Contarelli Chapel in the church of the French congregation, San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome. Over a decade before, Cardinal Matteu Contreil (in Italian, Matteo Contarelli) had left funds and specific instructions for the decoration of a chapel based on themes of his namesake. Decoration of the dome was started with frescoes by the late Mannerist artist, and one of the most popular painters in Rome at the time, Cavalier D'Arpino. Caravaggio's former employer. But with the elder painter busy with royal and papal patronage, Cardinal Francesco Del Monte. Caravaggio's patron and also the prefect of the Fabbrica of St Peter's (the Vatican office for Church property), intervened to obtain for Caravaggio his first major church commission and first painting with more than a handful of figures.
The three adjacent Caravaggio canvases in the Contarelli chapel represent a decisive shift from the idealising Mannerism of which d'Arpino was the last major practitioner, and the newer, more naturalistic and subject-oriented art represented by Caravaggio and Annibale Carracci. they were highly influential in their day. The "Calling" hangs opposite "The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew". Between the two, at the altar, is " The Inspiration of Saint Matthew " (1602). While the "Martyrdom" was likely the first to be started, the "Calling" was, by report, the first to be completed. The commission for these two lateral paintings — the "Calling" and the "Martyrdom" — is dated July 1599, and final payment was made in July 1600.
The painting depicts the story from the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 9:9): "Jesus saw a man named Matthew at his seat in the custom house, and said to him, "Follow me", and Matthew rose and followed him."
In some ways, most of the plebeian, nearly life-sized inhabitants of Levi 's money table are the equivalent, if not modeled by those persons in other Caravaggio paintings, including Caravaggio's famous secular genre paintings of "The Cardsharps" (1595).
In this painting, the gloom and the canvassed window appears to situate the table indoors. Christ brings the true light to the dark space of the sitting tax-collectors. This painting records the collision of two worlds — the ineluctable power of the immortal faith, and the mundane. foppish, world of Levi. Jesus spears him with a beam of light, with an apparent effortless hand gesture he exerts an inescapable sublime gravity, with no need for wrenching worldly muscularity. Jesus' bare feet are classical simplicity in contrast with the dandified accountants; being barefoot may also symbolize holiness, as if one is on holy ground. Similarly to his treatment of Paul in the " Conversion on the Way to Damascus ", Caravaggio chronicles the moment when a daily routine is interrupted by the miraculous. Around the man to become Matthew are either the unperceptive or unperturbed bystanders.
Caravaggio's audience would have seen the similarity between the gesture of Jesus as he points towards Matthew, and the gesture of God as he awakens Adam in Michelangelo 's Sistine Chapel. Following the line of Christ's left arm, it seems that Matthew is being invited to follow him into the world at large. "This clear legibility, so different from many Mannerist paintings. accounted for the work's enormous popularity."ref|Gash
The first two Contarelli paintings were indeed immensely popular, and placed Caravaggio at the forefront of the new naturalistic movement in Rome.
Other versions of the same topic
In his 1983 monograph on Caravaggio, Howard Hibbard compares the pose of the executioner with that of Girolamo Muziano 's "Martyrdom of St. Matthew" (1586-89) in Santa Maria in Aracoeli .
Compare other versions of the same topic, though it is unlikely that Caravaggio would have encountered any of the two painted prior to this version:
*Carpaccio 's version in the Accademia in Venice [http://gallery.euroweb.hu/html/c/carpacci/3schiavo/2/matthew.html ] .
* Marinus van Reymerswaele 's version (1536) [http://gallery.euroweb.hu/html/r/reymersw/calling.html ] .
* Giovanni Lanfranco 's derivative version (1626-28) [http://www.giovannilanfranco.it/swf/opere/12.htm ] .
*Spanish painter Juan de La Pareja 's version (1661) [http://www.usc.edu/schools/annenberg/asc/projects/comm544/library/images/055.html ] found in the Prado Museum in Madrid.
* Hendrick ter Brugghen [http://www.wga.hu/frames-e.html?/html/t/terbrugg/1/matthew.html ] .
* Bernardo Strozzi 's version (1620) in the Art Museum in Worcester. Massachusetts [http://www.worcesterart.org/Collection/European/1941.1.html ] .
* Other related paintings of cardsharps include the Caravaggisti depiction of Valentin de Boulogne in the National Gallery of Art [http://www.nga.gov/exhibitions/caravaggio/fig9.html ] .
* John Gash, "Caravaggio", 2003 [ISBN 1-904449-22-0]
*Helen Langdon, "Caravaggio: A Life", 1998 [ISBN 0-374-11894-9]
* [http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/caravaggio/calling/ ibiblio.org ]
* [http://home.worldonline.dk/lfmat/Contarellifiles/contarellibottomeng.htm A site of Caravaggio works ]
* [http://smarthistory.org/blog/68/caravaggio-the-calling-of-st-matthew-1599/ smARThistory: "Caravaggio's 'Calling of St. Matthew' ]
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Analysis of The Calling of Saint Matthew
Caravaggio, one of the best artists of all time. is best known for his highly realistic style of Baroque painting which - together with the classicism of Annibale Carracci (1560-1609) - effectively buried the artificial idiom of Mannerism and revitalized large scale religious art in Rome and Naples. Although cursed with a violent nature, Caravaggio was one of the most influential Italian artists of the 17th century. Orphaned by the plague in 1584, he learned painting in Milan from Simone Peterzano, and around 1592 moved to Rome where - thanks to genre paintings like The Cardsharps (1594, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth) - he rapidly acquired several patrons, one of whom - Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte - helped him to gain his first major public commission for the side walls of the Contarelli Chapel, in San Luigi dei Francesi. It involved two pictures: The Calling of St Matthew (1599-1600) and The Martyrdom of St Matthew (1599-1600). Both works were an immediate success, and were followed by a series of masterpieces that made him the most exciting painter of religious paintings in Rome. What made Caravaggio so unique, was the true-life naturalism that made his figures seem completely real. Unfortunately, some conservative ecclesiastics considered his style of painting to be too vulgar, although it was much sought after by art collectors and other painters. After his death, his signature style of painting - based on his use of tenebrism and chiaroscuro - would become known as Caravaggism and influence painters throughout Europe.
The Calling of Saint Matthew depicts the moment when Jesus Christ inspires Matthew to follow him and become an apostle. The picture was commissioned by the will of Cardinal Matthew Contarelli, who had provided resources and specific guidelines for the decoration of a chapel based on scenes from the life of his namesake, Saint Matthew. The ceiling of the chapel had already been decorated with frescoes by the popular Mannerist painter Cavaliere d'Arpino (Giuseppe Cesari) (1568-1640), but because he was too busy with papal work to decorate the walls, Del Monte intervened to secure the job for Caravaggio.
The Calling of Saint Matthew illustrates the passage in the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 9:9), when Jesus went into the custom house, saw Matthew at his seat and called to him, "Follow me". According to the story Matthew rose and followed him. In the painting, Christ (on the right, behind Peter) points to Levi, the tax-collector (the bearded man wearing a beret, who also appears in the two other Matthew paintings in the chapel) - and calls upon him to become the apostle Matthew. Although Levi is well to the left of the picture, the viewer's attention is nevertheless drawn to him by the hands pointing at him as well as by the intensity of the light shining on him.
In keeping with his plain, unvarnished aesthetics. Caravaggio borrows from his earlier genre painting (The Cardsharps. The Fortune-Teller ), and sets the scene in what appears to be a tavern, rather than a counting house or office. He may have modelled it on earlier examples of Northern Renaissance art - by Hans Holbein and others - featuring money lenders seated around a table. In addition, he introduces some very human interplay into the situation. To begin with, when he sees Christ pointing at him, Levi responds with a gesture, as if to say "Me?" indicating his uncertainty whether he is being addressed, or the younger man slumped on his right. In addition, the ray of light illuminating their faces, draws attention to the two youths, who appear rather lost in this group of older men. While one of them draws back in apprehension and looks to his older neighbour for protection, the other has turned to confront Christ, causing Saint Peter to gesture firmly for calm. Through the visual contrast between their reactions, Caravaggio displays psychological insight into two possible patterns of human behaviour in the same situation.
As he would do in much of his Christian art. Caravaggio conveys the sacred quality of the scene through a series of informal images. Here, for instance, the dandyish tax-collector and his fashionably-dressed associates - all busily counting the day's proceeds - are contrasted with the barefoot Christ. So as well as casting his gaze on a sinner like Levi, Jesus is shown to shine the cleansing light of faith into Levi's dark habitat of financial greed. Notice, for example, how Levi keeps his right hand on the coin he was counting before being interrupted by Christ. The Church saw Christ as a second Adam, a view acknowledged by the fact that Christ's gesture as he indicates Levi, is almost identical to Adam's gesture in The Creation of Adam (1511), part of the Genesis Fresco in the Sistine Chapel, by Michelangelo. Thus, not unlike the scene over the dinner table, portrayed in Supper at Emmaus (1601, National Gallery, London), Caravaggio shows us that miracles occur in the midst of the most mundane situations.
On close inspection, the power of this silent but dramatic narrative lies in its capture of the exact split-second when Christ's summons hangs in the air, when his listeners are still shocked and when Levi himself is caught in suspended indecision. In another second, he will rise up, become Matthew the apostle and follow Christ out of the room. But Caravaggio's masterpiece is no film, and Levi's moment of uncertainty - juxtaposed with the monumental certainty of Jesus Christ - will last for ever.
The Calling of Saint Matthew was painted for the Contarelli Chapel in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome, where it remains to this day. It hangs alongside two sister paintings, also by Caravaggio: The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew and The Inspiration of Saint Matthew. The Calling and the Martyrdom were completed in 1600; the Inspiration not until 1602.
Explanation of Other Paintings by Caravaggio
Crucifixion of Saint Peter (1601) Cerasi Chapel, Santa Maria del Popolo.
Amor Vincit Omnia (Love Conquers All) (1602) Gemaldegalerie SMPK, Berlin.
For an explanation of other Baroque religious paintings, see: Homepage.
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St. Matthew. the Paradox. Intellectual Idiot versus Spiritual Leader
Caravaggio 's painting. The Calling of Saint Matthew. offers an alternative portrayal of the legendary Saint Matthew through the use of paradox. Through the use of color and image. Saint Matthew is transformed from the spiritual entity he is most often thought of as being. into an actual human being who merely experienced a life changing epiphany
The Calling of Saint Matthew is estimated to have been painted between
1599 and 1600. at the very beginning of the Baroque period and in the last decade of Caravaggio 's life (Encarta. The painting was one of three to be included in his painting of the Contarelli Chapel in Rome (Encarta
One of the most stirring aspects of The Calling of Saint Matthew is the use of color. The painting employs a number of somber hues predominantly blacks and grays. to take away any spirituality Saint Matthew might be confused with. There is no real light. merely the faintness of lamplight. which makes the painting appear to be that much more human. Janis C. Bell 's article Some Seventeen-Century Appraisals of Caravaggio 's Coloring ' refers to Caravaggio 's use of color as being one of the most important characteristics of the painter 's style. It is through Caravaggio and his insistence on the use of light and dark. that he encourages the use of chiaroscuro to be accepted by the art community. What 's more. Bell explains that the use of chiaroscuro also allows for the painting to develop more of a truthfulness than it would have if more colors and lighting were used
It is that idea of truthfulness that makes the painting so stirring Matthew sits in darkness with his peers. counting money. It is no accident that he is covered by the shadows. He is. at first sight. a sinner. incapable of becoming the famed Saint Matthew. But there is also the idea that the darkness. the truthfulness of the shadows. can bring about change. Matthew has the potential to become something else because the colors around him are true to the environment. he is true to himself. When Christ appears. he is quick to embrace his spirituality
Bell also explains that many people stated that Caravaggio had a tendency of painting so that his works appeared to be predominantly black His use of chiaroscuro allowed for the majority of the portrait to be swathed in darkness. while minimal light was brought in from only one corner. in such a way that at first glance. the light would be insignificant but on further study. would make the viewer realize the personal transcendence occurring in the piece. It can then be asked if the painting would be more effective if there had been more use of bright colors or if the decision to have the painting be predominantly black made the painting much stronger. Once again. it is the.
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