what style is caravaggio the calling of saint matthew
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.
Explanation of Other Paintings by Caravaggio
Over a decade before, Cardinal Matthieu Cointerel (in Italian, Matteo Contarelli) had left in his will funds and specific instructions for the decoration of a chapel based on themes related to his namesake, St Matthew. The dome of the chapel was decorated with frescoes by the late Mannerist artist Cavalier D’Arpino, Caravaggio’s former employer and one of the most popular painters in Rome at the time. But as D’Arpino became 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 his 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, to the newer, more naturalistic and subject-oriented art represented by Caravaggio and Annibale Carracci: they were highly influential in their day.
Caravaggio represented the event as a nearly silent, dramatic narrative. The sequence of actions before and after this moment can be easily and convincingly re-created. The tax-gatherer Levi (Saint Matthew’s name before he became the apostle) was seated at a table with his four assistants, counting the day’s proceeds, the group lighted from a source at the upper right of the painting. Christ, His eyes veiled, with His halo the only hint of divinity, enters with Saint Peter. A gesture of His right hand, all the more powerful and compelling because of its languor, summons Levi. Surprised by the intrusion and perhaps dazzled by the sudden light from the just-opened door, Levi draws back and gestures toward himself with his left hand as if to say, “Who, me?”, his right hand remaining on the coin he had been counting before Christ’s entrance.
The subject traditionally was represented either indoors or out; sometimes Saint Matthew is shown inside a building, with Christ outside (following the Biblical text) summoning him through a window. Both before and after Caravaggio the subject was often used as a pretext for anecdotal genre paintings. Caravaggio may well have been familiar with earlier Netherlandish paintings of money lenders or of gamblers seated around a table like Saint Matthew and his associates.
Works by other artists:
Hendrick ter Brugghen: The Calling of St Matthew, 1620
The Calling of Saint Matthew can be divided into two parts. The figures on the right form a vertical rectangle while those on the left create a horizontal block. The two sides are further distinguished by their clothing and symbolically, by Christ’s hand.
Caravaggio’s painting shows a group of tax collectors gathered around a table in a dimly lit, ordinary room. A dash of light sweeps the canvas from right to left and illuminates the scene, creating Caravaggio’s signature lighting technique known as chiaroscuro (the contrast of light and shadow). Three of the five tax collectors are looking up in surprise as the sudden appearance of Jesus Christ and Saint Peter has broken up the monotony of daily life. Jesus’ open mouth suggests that he is speaking the words ‘follow me,’ but who is he making this request of? The outstretched arms of both Christ and Peter lead our eye to an older bearded man, Matthew, who points to himself as if to say, ‘Who, me?’ in reaction to Jesus’ invitation. The young man at the far left end of the table and the older man who stands over him might represent the opposite reaction that one should have toward Jesus: uninterested, unresponsive, and wrapped up in the importance of worldly affairs.
The Italian Baroque painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) is renowned today for creating a moralizing, and at times controversial, body of work. In this text lesson, we will dissect the meaning behind The Calling of Saint Matthew, the life-size oil painting that launched Caravaggio’s career and made him the most desired religious painter in Rome.