Title

Caravaggio's Inspiration of Saint Matthew: A Lesson in Penance

Description/Abstract/Artist Statement

Relatively unknown at the time, an early-Baroque painter named Michelangelo Merisi received his first public commission to adorn the Contarelli Chapel of San Luigi dei Francesi, the French National Church in Rome. The high-profile project launched this Lombard artist, now, better known as Caravaggio, to fame. Two lateral paintings, The Calling of Saint Matthew (1599-1600), The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew (1599-1600), and an altarpiece, Saint Matthew and the Angel (1602), which was rejected by church officials, have been thoroughly analyzed by historians. The Inspiration of Saint Matthew, painted to replace the first altarpiece, has garnered scant critical attention. In fact, typically, historians address it only briefly, treating it as a foil to better understand the rejection of its predecessor. However, an examination of the iconography of this second version (which is still in situ) reveals how the communication of a major objective of the post-Tridentine Catholic Church may be discerned by a singular detail: the stool. As a cipher for sin, the stool is the key to understanding that Inspiration conveys to believers and heretics alike the magnitude of the Catholic Sacrament of Penance, positioning it squarely within the context of Caravaggio’s established program for the Contarelli Chapel and at odds with the Protestant notion of justification.

Presenting Author Name/s

Kim Hardy

Faculty Advisor/Mentor

Anne H. Muraoka

College Affiliation

College of Arts & Letters

Presentation Type

Oral Presentation

Disciplines

Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque Art and Architecture

Session Title

Art History 2: New Research Commemorating the 450th Anniversary of Caravaggio's Birth

Location

Zoom

Start Date

3-19-2022 2:15 PM

End Date

3-19-2022 3:15 PM

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Mar 19th, 2:15 PM Mar 19th, 3:15 PM

Caravaggio's Inspiration of Saint Matthew: A Lesson in Penance

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Relatively unknown at the time, an early-Baroque painter named Michelangelo Merisi received his first public commission to adorn the Contarelli Chapel of San Luigi dei Francesi, the French National Church in Rome. The high-profile project launched this Lombard artist, now, better known as Caravaggio, to fame. Two lateral paintings, The Calling of Saint Matthew (1599-1600), The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew (1599-1600), and an altarpiece, Saint Matthew and the Angel (1602), which was rejected by church officials, have been thoroughly analyzed by historians. The Inspiration of Saint Matthew, painted to replace the first altarpiece, has garnered scant critical attention. In fact, typically, historians address it only briefly, treating it as a foil to better understand the rejection of its predecessor. However, an examination of the iconography of this second version (which is still in situ) reveals how the communication of a major objective of the post-Tridentine Catholic Church may be discerned by a singular detail: the stool. As a cipher for sin, the stool is the key to understanding that Inspiration conveys to believers and heretics alike the magnitude of the Catholic Sacrament of Penance, positioning it squarely within the context of Caravaggio’s established program for the Contarelli Chapel and at odds with the Protestant notion of justification.