The Calling of the Apostle Matthew, by Caravaggio

by Isabella Childs January 07, 2021


    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.


Isabella Childs
Isabella Childs


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