The Calling of St Matthew is a 1609 painting by Italian Baroque Painter Caravaggio. This work is located in the San Luigi dei Francesi Church in Rome, Italy.
Analysis of Caravaggio’s The Calling of St Matthew
The Calling of St Matthew is a famous painting by Caravaggio. The painting depicts the biblical scene in which Jesus calls Matthew, a tax collector, to become one of his disciples.
In the painting, Caravaggio captures the moment of divine intervention with a powerful sense of realism and drama. The scene takes place in a dimly lit interior space, where a group of men sits around a table covered with money and accounting tools. On the left side of the painting, Jesus, accompanied by St. Peter, enters the scene and points towards Matthew. His finger and gaze direct Matthew’s attention to himself, calling him to follow.
Matthew, depicted as a bearded man in contemporary clothing, is seated at the table and is portrayed as startled and surprised by the unexpected encounter. His face is illuminated by a divine light that accentuates his expression of awe and uncertainty. The other men in the scene, who are portrayed as common figures, appear engrossed in their activities, seemingly oblivious to the divine presence.
Caravaggio’s use of light is particularly noteworthy in this painting. The strong contrast between light and shadow, known as chiaroscuro, intensifies the dramatic impact of the scene. The divine light that bathes Jesus and Matthew serves as a visual metaphor for spiritual awakening and enlightenment. It draws attention to the figures of Jesus and Matthew, emphasizing their importance and highlighting the transformative nature of the moment.
The Calling of St Matthew is regarded as one of Caravaggio’s masterpieces, showcasing his mastery of light, naturalistic details, and emotional intensity. It exemplifies his innovative approach to religious subject matter by depicting biblical figures in contemporary settings and using everyday people as models. The painting challenges traditional notions of idealized beauty and formal composition, presenting a more authentic and relatable interpretation of the biblical narrative.
Caravaggio’s The Calling of St Matthew has had a significant influence on the history of art. Its bold and unconventional style, characterized by a fusion of sacred and secular elements, paved the way for the development of the Baroque art movement. The painting’s emotional impact and realistic portrayal of human figures set a new standard for artistic expression and continue to captivate viewers to this day.
The Calling of St Matthew in the Bible
The Calling of St Matthew is a biblical event recounted in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. It is described in the Gospel of Matthew, specifically in Matthew 9:9-13. This passage recounts the moment when Jesus called Matthew, a tax collector, to become one of his disciples.
In the narrative, Jesus is said to be passing by a tax collector’s booth where Matthew, also known as Levi, was working. Tax collectors during that time were often despised figures as they were seen as collaborators with the occupying Roman authorities and were known to exploit their positions for personal gain. Jesus, however, saw potential in Matthew and approached him with a divine purpose.
According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus simply said to Matthew, “Follow me.” Matthew, upon hearing these words, immediately left his work and followed Jesus, leaving behind his life as a tax collector. This act of obedience and surrender to Jesus’ call is seen as a powerful demonstration of Matthew’s faith and trust in the divine invitation.
The Calling of St Matthew represents a significant turning point in Matthew’s life. By responding to Jesus’ call, he not only became a disciple but also played a vital role in the spreading of the Gospel. Matthew is traditionally considered the author of the Gospel of Matthew, one of the four canonical Gospels, which is believed to have been written to convey the teachings and life of Jesus.
This passage is often interpreted as a demonstration of Jesus’ inclusivity and his willingness to call individuals from various backgrounds to follow him. By selecting Matthew, a tax collector and social outcast, Jesus challenged societal norms and demonstrated his desire to reach out to those who were considered sinners or marginalized by society. This theme of mercy, forgiveness, and inclusion is echoed throughout Jesus’ ministry as he engages with individuals from all walks of life.
The Calling of St Matthew also serves as a reminder of the transformative power of encountering Jesus. Matthew’s response to Jesus’ call exemplifies the radical change that can occur when one encounters the grace and truth of Christ. It symbolizes the possibility of redemption and the opportunity for individuals to embark on a new path, leaving behind their old lives and embracing a life of discipleship and service.
The story of the Calling of St Matthew has had a profound impact on Christian spirituality and has been a source of inspiration for countless believers throughout history. It highlights the universality of God’s invitation to follow him and encourages individuals to respond to that call with faith and obedience. The narrative serves as a reminder that no one is beyond God’s reach, and through the transformative power of Jesus’ message, lives can be changed and purpose can be discovered.