Yes, of all the artists profiled in our upcoming title, “Art + Travel Europe: Step into the Lives of Five Famous Painters”, Caravaggio is the most randy, rough, and dangerous of the bunch. A playboy, bon vivant, and murderer, Caravaggio’s taste a facility for sin has become almost as famous as his ability with a paintbrush. It’s interesting, then, that of the four other artists in our upcoming volume (Vermeer, Van Gogh, Munch, and Goya) he was also the one most noted for his religious works, a brilliant trio of which have been on display at the Contarelli Chapel at the back of Rome’s Church of San Luigi dei Francesi for over 400 years.
A sinner, yes, but few have captured the lives of the saints so dramatically as Caravaggio did in his paintings on the life and martyrdom of Saint Matthew the Evangelist housed in San Luigi dei Francesi (Rome’s National Church of France). Anchored by “The Inspiration of Saint Matthew” (1600), “The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew” (1600) and “The Calling of Saint Matthew” (15990-1600) face each other in the Chapel, offering a sort of triptych for the religious or art pilgrim. Originally meant to be painted by Giuseppe Cesari, the task of decorating the Chapel fell to Caravaggio in 1599. After producing “The Martyrdom” and “The Calling”, Caravaggio offered a new, center painting, “Saint Matthew and the Angel” to his clients at the church—a work that was rejected for its lack of proper piousness and was eventually destroyed in the bombing of Berlin in World War II. Since installation, though, “The Inspiration” has remained the focal point of the Chapel, of the Church and, since the resurgence of Caravaggio’s popularity in the early 20th Century, of many a tourist’s quick poke into these dark and beautiful interiors.
For more European sights viewed through the prism of great artists, pre-order a copy of our “Art + Travel Europe: Step into the Lives of Five Famous Painters”.
Top: “The Inspiration of Saint Matthew”, Caravaggio, 1600, and “The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew”, Caravaggio, 1600, in situ at the Contarelli Chapel in the The Church of San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome, via p medved’s Flickr photostream.
Middle (right to left): Detail of “The Inspiration of Saint Matthew” courtesy of the Contarelli Chapel, exterior of The Church of San Luigi dei Francesi, via Archiseek.
Bottom (clockwise from upper left): The ceiling of San Luigi dei Francesi, via Buzzsugar, detail of “The Calling of Saint Matthew”, Caravaggio, 1599-1600, ceiling of the Contarelli Chapel, via Genuine Photo’s Flickr photostream, detail of “The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew”.