The Calling of Saint Matthew

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Caravaggio’s The Calling of Saint Matthew is a Baroque era oil canvas painting measuring 127 by 130 inches. The large painting is considered to be one of  his greatest works, completed during his prime years. In the painting, Caravaggio gets inspiration from his own time, area and surroundings. He paints the tax collectors in clothes from his era placing them in modern existence at the time. The placement of biblical figures in modern existence was consistent with most of his work which showed his confidence in his ability to create iconic paintings in the Baroque era(Ebert-Schifferer, 2012). The Italian painter who is considered to be a great influence on modern painting as we know it, was only 26 years old when he was commissioned to create three large paintings inspired by Saint Matthews life.  In 1600, he completed The Calling of Saint Matthew, The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew and Saint Matthew and the Angel. He created the paintings for Contarelli Chapel in San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome; where they remain till today except Saint Matthew and the Angel (Graham-Dixon & Caravaggio, 2012).

The Calling of Saint Matthew portrays the juncture when Jesus Christ inspiredMatthew as his disciple and a follower of his teachings. It illustrates seven men in the dark and dimly lit room, but there is a beam of light illuminating the scene from left to right creating a great contrast of the light and shadows. They are evidently Chiaroscuro; Caravaggio’s signature approach which painters used widely used during the Baroque era.Five of the seven men are elegantly dressed and seemingly wealthy tax collectors seated on a round table on one end of the room. Matthew, the older man with a beard and undoubtedly the most distinct figure of them all, is seated at the center which causes your eyes to be led to him every single time. Two men are standing facing the tax collectors. One of the two men who has his arm extended pointing towards Matthew is Jesus Christ, and Matthew is pointing at himself with an expression that radiates disbelief. The dramatic contrast and characters in the painting create an emotionally intense and psychologically authentic feeling. The extravagant setting of the dimly lit room creates a grandiose vision.

Baroque-era paintings show the portrayal of distinct characteristics and features such as the dramatic use of color in “The Calling of Saint Matthews. Caravaggio made the painting in vivid warm colors;  with contrasts of green, reds and gold throughout the painting. The contrasting colors and textures complement the expressions and gestures of the figures and the paintings. Secondly, the dimly lit room and a contrasting beam of light in the painting are consistent with the usually dramatic light-shadow paintings of the Baroque era(Bauer, Prater, & Walther, 2006). Thirdly, the painting shows the continuity essence of Baroque era style brought out by men overlapping with one another and other objects and elements in the painting(Bauer, Prater, & Walther, 2006). The style is distinct from Renaissance art that has defined and separated planes, with characters and figures being disjointed and isolate from one. The continuity style is also brought about by other values and characteristics in the painting. For instance, the characters in the painting are obvious, dramatic and direct and this makes the observer of the painting fell drawn in with the desire to participate in the scene.

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