Caravaggio’s ‘The Calling of St. Matthew’

In talking about being called by Pope Benedict XVI to serve as the eighth bishop of Camden, Bishop Dennis Sullivan referred to Caravaggio’s “The Calling of St. Matthew,” which features a humbled apostle who finds himself literally and figuratively in the light of Christ.

Jesus’ hand and arm, stretched out toward a surprised St. Matthew, recalls God the Father’s in Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam” in the Sistine Chapel.

In “The Calling of St. Matthew,” the artist relies on the simplicity of the Gospel and depicts “the precise moment at which a man’s life changes forever – and becomes something else completely,” Francine Prose writes in her book “Caravaggio: Painter of Miracles.”

Part of Caravaggio’s power in his religious themes, she argues, is his ability to present “the paradoxical ordinariness of a miracle.”

“By making us inescapably aware that we are looking at flesh-and-blood men and women, painted from nature, Caravaggio emphasizes the humanity of Christ and his disciples, of the Virgin and the Magdalene,” she writes.

The painter was commissioned to paint “The Calling” and another canvas, “The Martydom of St. Matthew,” for the lateral walls of the Contarelli Chapel in San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome, in 1599. Completed the following year, the two works established his fame.

A temperamental man who lived a tumultuous life, Caravaggio died 10 years after completing “The Calling of St. Matthew.” He was 39 years old.

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