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Slide show by Giuseppe Torchia
Translation from Italian by Cesare Bartoccioni

Published in: Art & Photos


  1. 1. CaravaggioCaravaggio THE CALLING OF SAINTTHE CALLING OF SAINT MATTHEWMATTHEW 1599-1600 ROMA, Church of San Luigi dei Francesi Contarelli Chapel oil on canvas cm. 322 x cm.340 Slide show by Giuseppe Torchia Translation from Italian by Cesare Bartoccioni
  2. 2. Jesus went out of town and saw a tax collector in his office: his name was Matthew. He said to him: "Follow me", and he stood up and followed Him.
  3. 3. The scene takes place in an empty and badly lit setting where the only furniture consists of a table and some chairs: it's the office where duties are collected.
  4. 4. On a wall there's a high window opened, whose glass is obscured by a yellowish paper.
  5. 5. Five men are seated around the table: Matthew (in the middle) and the other tax collectors.
  6. 6. Two strangers have just entered the room, they're standing in front of the five tax collectors. One of the two is Christ who, with the arm extended, is pointing at the character seated in the middle, at the table. The other one is Saint Peter who, with a less evident gesture, reiterates the companion's gesture.
  7. 7. The man who is pointed at is the tax collector Levi (Matthew). This one, maybe dazzled by the light suddenly entering the room, seems moving backwards in a light motion of astonishment and, pointing at himself with his left hand, seems as if answering: “Who, me?”.
  8. 8. The other characters seated show different behaviours. The two youths with the feathered beret are turning their look towards the strangers.
  9. 9. The other two characters on the left are depicted in the action of counting the money. The old man with the fur collar scrutinizes the counting by the young man, bent over the table.
  10. 10. The composition The painting can be divided into two counterposed parts: on the left, the group of the five men seated around the table forms a horizontal block; on the right, the figures of Christ and Saint Peter follow a vertical disposition.
  11. 11. The costumes, too, stress the counterposition of the two groups. On one side, Matthew and the tax collectors elegantly dressed in Caravaggio's own age fashion.
  12. 12. On the other side, barefooted and wrapped in old style clothes, Christ and Saint Peter. The absence of footwear symbolizes the ideal of poverty towards which those who convert to Catholicism must inspire.
  13. 13. The two blocks are separated by an empty space in the centre of the depiction, only filled by Christ's right hand * which creates a link between them. * Note in the picture below how Christ's hand reproduces Adam's as painted on the Sistina's vault by Michelangelo.
  14. 14. The Caravaggian realism In Caravaggio's painting, for the first time a sacred episode is depicted in a realistic way and transposed into present times. The characters around the table are wearing contemporary clothing and find themselves in a setting which observers in that times could recognize as one of the many meeting places, a Roman pub in the 1600s. The artist, in this way, intended to express a religiousness at the reach of the popular, humble, poor classes, sinners included. “The Calling of Saint Matthew” was thus becoming the representation of an event which could happen for any man of that times, in any time.
  15. 15. The light The intense light beam coming from behind Christ is not produced by the door opening from where Christ and Saint Peter have entered. It's a symbolic, not a physical, light. It represents Grace, that is the offer for the salvation of the soul. Salvation which is received by those who turn their look towards It, while the two tax collectors who remain bent on greedily counting the money are destined to perdition.
  16. 16. Henry IVHenry IV The canvas is situated in a French church. At the time of its realization, the King of France, Henry IV, a protestant, had just converted to Catholicism. He was, for the Church, a sinner enlightened by Divine Grace.
  17. 17. Saint PeterSaint Peter Radiographies made in 1951 have revealed that the figure of Peter was added subsequently to the first layer. Its inserting refers to the vicarial role of the Church, that is the role of Christ's representative on Earth, which is entitled to interpreting the Scriptures.
  18. 18. The spectaclesThe spectacles The presence of spectacles are a demonstration of the scrupulous care Caravaggio dedicates to each detail of the painting. Already in use for a couple of centuries, spectacles start appearing in Flemish portraiture. Symbolically, they could represent “short- sightedness” which comes from being blinded by money.
  19. 19. Caravaggio's techniqueCaravaggio's technique Caravaggio painted without any preparatory drawing. He only sketched the essential lines of the figures or of the objects. In order to to this, he used a hard point with which he practised some incisions on the still fresh preparation.
  20. 20. Source: Federico Zeri, Vocazione di San Matteo, 1998, RCS Libri, Milano