By Martina Bollini

January 25 is the feast day of the conversion of Saint Paul. In his early life Paul, known then as Saul, was a zealous persecutor of Jesus’ first followers. His conversion, described in the Acts of the Apostles and hinted at in some Pauline letters, took place on the way to Damascus, where Saul was headed to arrest some disciples of Jesus. Struck to the ground by a divine light, he heard the voice of Christ calling on him and saying, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” This vision temporarily blinded Saul, who regained his sight only when he was baptized by Ananias, in Damascus.

In the artistic tradition the conversion of Saul is usually depicted with the saint thrown from his horse. Though there is no mention of a horse in the Bible, this association might come from the Middle Age tradition of representing the capital sin of pride as a horseman being unsaddled. 

After his conversion, Saul took the name Paul and preached Christianity in Asia Minor and in the Mediterranean basin.

Pordenone (Giovanni Antonio de’ Sacchis), 1524, Spilimbergo, Duomo.

Parmigianino, c. 1527, Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum.

Michelangelo Buonarroti, 1542-45, Vatican City, Apostolic Palace, Cappella Paolina – detail.

Taddeo Zuccari, Urbino, Galleria Nazionale delle Marche.

Ludovico Carracci, 1587, Bologna, Pinacoteca Nazionale.

Caravaggio, 1600-1601, Rome, Odescalchi Balbi Collection.

Caravaggio, 1604-1605, Rome, Church of Santa Maria del Popolo, Cerasi Chapel.

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