By Anne Leader
September 21 is the feast day of gospel author St. Matthew, one of the twelve apostles. Matthew’s gospel recounts how Jesus called him to abandon his work as a money changer to follow him. At the turn of the seventeenth century, Baroque artist Caravaggio created one of the most famous narrative cycles devoted to Matthew for the Contarelli Chapel in the Roman church of San Luigi dei Francesi. On the left wall, Matthew is seen at his counting desk, stunned by Jesus’ invitation. On the right, Matthew is executed for his Christian faith. Over the altar, Caravaggio shows Matthew writing his gospel, inspired by an angel. The painting was the second made for this space after the original was rejectedfor its lack of decorum. In the revised version, Caravaggio separates the heavenly messenger from the earthly apostle and reworks Matthew’s pose so that his bare foot no longer hangs over the altar table.
Caravaggio, paintings for the Contarelli Chapel, 1599-1600, San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome.