Inspiration of St.Matthew

Click on the picture to see an enlarged version.

  • Oil on Canvas: 1602
  • 292 x 186 cm
  • Contarelli Chapel, San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome

In 1565 the French Monsignor Matteo Contarelli acquired a chapel in San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome, but when he died twenty years later it had not yet been decorated. On 13 June 1599 Caravaggio signed a contract to execute the two paintings which we have already seen&emdash;St. Matthew's calling and martydom. On 7 February 1602, Caravaggio was commissioned for a third painting, to be delibered in four months. The subject was to be St. Matthew writing his gospel under the inspiration of an angel.

The first version of the St Matthew and the Angel was deemed unacceptable, sold off and eventually destroyed in the Second World War. The second version (this picture) still stands over the altar today.

The first version was a masterpiece of the artist. It contained, in the angel who with gentle indulgence guided the saint's uncertain hand as he wrote, one of the most charming figures ever painted by the artist. The first painting was criticised for Matthew's lack of decorum. In the final version, likewise a splendid feat of imagination but certainly less fascinating than the first, the angel much more correctly counts on his fingers, in the traditional scholastic fashion, the arguments than the saint should take note of and develop. A whirlwind of drapery envelops the angel. The saint balances on his bench, in precarious equilibrium, like a modern schoolboy; but this time the unorthodox elements do not seem to have raised particular objections.


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