Caravaggio:
The Conversion of St. Paul


Click on the picture to see an enlarged version.

  • Oil on wood, 1600
  • 237 x 189 cm
  • Odescalchi Balbi Collection, Rome

In 1600, while working on his two great paintins for the French church, Caravaggio received the commission for two paintings for the new chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo. Today, the church has a special interest to scholars because of the works it contains by four of the finest artists ever to work in Rome: Raphael, Carracci, Caravaggio and Bernini. It is probable that by the time Caravaggio began to paint for one of its chapels, The Assumption by Annibale Carracci was in place above the altar. Caravaggio's depictions of key events in the lives of the founders of the Roman See have little in common with the brilliant colours and stylized attitudes of Annibale, and Caravaggio seems by far the more modern artist.

This painting represents the moment when Saul (later to be renamed Paul) is on the road to Damascus to carry out a persecution of the young Christian community. He has a vision as Christ calls out to him, "Why are you persecuting me?" In the position of the St Paul and of the Christ, and in the movement of the horse into the depth of the picture, this work is still related to the tradition of Michelangelo, but there are decidedly Caravaggesque elements in the work, such as the face of the angel supporting Christ. amd in the play of light upon Paul's fallen form.

 

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