The Calling of the Apostle Matthew, by Caravaggio

by Isabella Childs January 07, 2021

disciple

    This is a painting of the calling of the apostle Saint Matthew, by the famous Baroque master, Caravaggio. The image fittingly captures the moment in which the tax-collector wavered between his desire for money and the call of the Divine Master.

    The scene of the painting is set in a dark room, with a brown wall as the backdrop. There is one window slightly off-center in the wall. A wooden shutter hangs open to the left of the window, but nothing beyond the window is visible.

    Matthew sits behind a small table on the left side of the painting. Just as the other people in the painting, the Jewish tax-collector is portrayed as a man from the late Renaissance. He appears to be about forty years old, with white skin, light brown hair, and a beard. Matthew wears a short red tunic, white tights, and a circular-shaped, black hat. Matthew looks to his left at Christ, while pointing at himself with his left hand in uncertainty, asking, "Am I the one to whom you speak?" Matthew’s right hand rests on the coins stacked on the table. Light coming from the right side of the room, where Christ stands, falls on the tax-collector's face.

    Directly to Matthew’s right stands an old man, with pale skin and wearing spectacles. The old man gazes down at the coins on the table. Beside the old man, leaning over the coins at the left side of the table, is a boy of about twelve years of age. The boy has pale skin and thick brown hair. He wears a shirt, with yellow, white, green, and red on it, and some white tights.

    A young boy of about ten years of age rests his right arm on Matthew’s left shoulder. The boy has white skin. He wears a black cap with a large white feather in it and a red and gold tunic. The boy looks to his left at Christ. A young man sits across from the boy sitting on Matthew’s left. The young man wears a black cap with a white feather in it, a black and white tunic, and white tights. A slender sword hangs behind him from his waist. He sits, straddling a narrow bench, with his hands on his hips, while looking to his right at Christ.

    Christ stands in the shadowed corner of the room, on the right side of the painting. Of His body, only the Savior’s head and right arm are visible. Christ has pale skin, dark brown hair, and a beard. He wears a red robe. There is the thin outline of a halo above His head. The Divine Master looks at Matthew, extending His right hand to the apostle. The extended and raised, yet drooping hand of the Savior closely resembles the hand of Adam in Michelangelo's famous artwork, "The Creation of Adam". Perhaps Caravaggio is alluding in his artwork to Christ's role as Second Adam.

    A man with gray hair and a beard, wearing a gray-brown cloak, stands beside Christ at the Savior’s left side. This man faces Matthew and points towards the apostle with his right hand.

    This painting is considered to be one of the greatest artistic masterpieces ever made. Download the digitally-restored image.

Updated 2023:

Title: The Calling of Saint Matthew by Caravaggio: A Masterpiece of Baroque Art and its Enduring Significance

Introduction:

The Baroque era of art was characterized by a dramatic, theatrical style that aimed to evoke intense emotions and create a sense of awe in the viewer. One of the most iconic paintings from this period is "The Calling of Saint Matthew" by Caravaggio. This masterpiece captures the moment when Jesus Christ called upon Saint Matthew, a tax-collector, to become one of his apostles. In this article, we will explore the details of this painting, its historical significance, and its impact on the art world.

The Setting and Characters in "The Calling of Saint Matthew":

"The Calling of Saint Matthew" is set in a dimly-lit room with a brown wall as the backdrop. The only source of light comes from the right side of the room, where Jesus Christ stands, casting a spotlight on Saint Matthew. The central figure in the painting, Matthew, is portrayed as a man in his forties, with white skin, light brown hair, and a beard. He is dressed in a short red tunic, white tights, and a black circular hat. He looks to his left at Christ, while pointing at himself with his left hand in uncertainty, asking, "Am I the one to whom you speak?" His right hand rests on the coins stacked on the table.

To Matthew's right stands an old man with spectacles, gazing down at the coins on the table. Beside the old man is a young boy of about twelve years of age, leaning over the coins at the left side of the table. He wears a shirt with yellow, white, green, and red on it, and some white tights. A young boy of about ten years of age rests his right arm on Matthew's left shoulder. He wears a black cap with a large white feather in it and a red and gold tunic. The boy looks to his left at Christ. A young man sits across from the boy sitting on Matthew's left. The young man wears a black cap with a white feather in it, a black and white tunic, and white tights. A slender sword hangs behind him from his waist. He sits, straddling a narrow bench, with his hands on his hips, while looking to his right at Christ.

Christ is portrayed in the shadowed corner of the room on the right side of the painting. Only His head and right arm are visible. He has pale skin, dark brown hair, and a beard. He wears a red robe with the thin outline of a halo above His head. The Divine Master looks at Matthew, extending His right hand to the apostle. The extended and raised, yet drooping hand of the Savior closely resembles the hand of Adam in Michelangelo's famous artwork, "The Creation of Adam". Perhaps Caravaggio is alluding in his artwork to Christ's role as Second Adam.

The Significance of "The Calling of Saint Matthew":

"The Calling of Saint Matthew" is significant not only for its artistic mastery but also for its historical and religious importance. The painting depicts the moment when Jesus chose a tax-collector, a despised and sinful profession in Jewish society, to become one of His disciples. This act was a powerful statement of Christ's message of redemption and inclusion, which challenged the social norms of his time.

Caravaggio's realistic portrayal of the human figures in the painting also reflects the Baroque style's emphasis on dramatic realism. The use of chiaroscuro, or the contrast between light and dark, creates a sense of depth and three-dimensionality, making the figures seem almost lifelike.

"The Calling of Saint Matthew" has influenced countless artists over the centuries, including Rembrandt, Rubens, and Velázquez. It is a testament to the enduring impact of this painting that it continues to inspire and captivate viewers to this day.

Caravaggio's Unique Style:

Caravaggio was known for his unique style, which was characterized by a dramatic use of light and shadow and a realistic portrayal of human figures. His style was in stark contrast to the ornate and decorative style that was popular during the Renaissance. Instead, Caravaggio emphasized the naturalistic and emotional aspects of his subjects.

In "The Calling of Saint Matthew", Caravaggio employs his trademark use of chiaroscuro to create a sense of drama and tension in the painting. The contrast between light and dark creates a sense of depth and three-dimensionality, making the figures seem almost lifelike. This effect is particularly evident in the way that Saint Matthew is illuminated by the light coming from Christ, which draws the viewer's eye to the central figure in the painting.

Caravaggio's emphasis on realism is also evident in his depiction of the human figures in the painting. Unlike the idealized figures that were common in Renaissance art, Caravaggio's figures are portrayed with all their imperfections and flaws. Matthew, for example, is shown with a receding hairline and a double chin, which lends a sense of authenticity to the painting.

The Historical Context of "The Calling of Saint Matthew":

"The Calling of Saint Matthew" was painted in the early 17th century, during a time of religious and political upheaval in Europe. The Protestant Reformation had challenged the authority of the Catholic Church, leading to a period of intense conflict and division. In addition, the rise of nation-states and the decline of feudalism had led to changes in the social and political structures of Europe.

Against this backdrop, "The Calling of Saint Matthew" can be seen as a reflection of the tensions and conflicts of the time. The painting depicts the moment when Jesus calls upon a tax-collector, a figure who was despised and reviled in Jewish society, to become one of His disciples. This act can be seen as a powerful statement of Christ's message of redemption and inclusion, which challenged the social norms of his time.

At the same time, the painting can also be seen as a reflection of the political and social changes that were taking place in Europe. The figure of Saint Matthew, a tax-collector, can be seen as a symbol of the emerging capitalist economy that was taking hold in Europe. The emphasis on realism in the painting can also be seen as a reflection of the growing interest in science and empirical observation during this period.

The Influence of "The Calling of Saint Matthew" on Art:

"The Calling of Saint Matthew" has had a profound influence on the art world, inspiring countless artists over the centuries. Rembrandt, for example, was deeply influenced by Caravaggio's use of chiaroscuro, and his own paintings often featured dramatic contrasts between light and dark.

Rubens, on the other hand, was influenced by Caravaggio's use of color and his emphasis on realism. His own paintings often featured a rich palette of colors and a sense of physicality and sensuality that was influenced by Caravaggio's style.

Velázquez, another famous Baroque painter, was also influenced by Caravaggio's use of light and shadow. His own paintings often featured a strong sense of realism and a use of light that was reminiscent of Caravaggio's style.

Conclusion:

"The Calling of Saint Matthew" by Caravaggio is a masterpiece of Baroque art that continues to captivate viewers to this day. Its dramatic use of light and shadow, its realistic portrayal of human figures, and its historical and religious significance have all contributed to its enduring popularity. As we have seen

, Caravaggio's unique style and the historical context of the painting have also had a profound influence on the art world.

Caravaggio's emphasis on realism and his use of chiaroscuro were revolutionary in their time and have had a lasting impact on art. The way he portrayed his subjects with all their imperfections and flaws was a departure from the idealized figures that were common in Renaissance art. His use of light and shadow created a sense of drama and depth that was unmatched by other artists of his time.

"The Calling of Saint Matthew" also reflects the historical and social changes that were taking place in Europe during the Baroque era. The figure of Saint Matthew can be seen as a symbol of the emerging capitalist economy that was taking hold in Europe, and the emphasis on realism in the painting can be seen as a reflection of the growing interest in science and empirical observation.

The painting's enduring popularity can be attributed to its historical and religious significance, as well as its artistic mastery. "The Calling of Saint Matthew" has inspired countless artists over the centuries, and its influence can be seen in the works of many famous painters, including Rembrandt, Rubens, and Velázquez.

In conclusion, "The Calling of Saint Matthew" by Caravaggio is a masterpiece of Baroque art that continues to captivate viewers with its dramatic use of light and shadow, its realistic portrayal of human figures, and its historical and religious significance. Caravaggio's unique style and the historical context of the painting have had a profound influence on the art world, inspiring countless artists over the centuries. Its enduring popularity is a testament to its status as one of the greatest works of art ever created.




Isabella Childs
Isabella Childs

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