The best Caravaggio’s in RomeNicola
Most tourists would have Michelangelo’s beautiful Sistine Chapel at the top of their list of things to do when visiting Rome, and with good reason. But, did you know that there is a lesser known and just as revolutionary chapel in Rome with Scenes from the Life of Saint Matthew by Caravaggio, that will also blow you mind?
A stones throw behind the Pantheon, there is a little brown sign pointing to ‘Caravaggio masterpieces this way’, but blink and you will miss it, and besides not everybody would be as familiar with the works of the Baroque master Caravaggio as they might be with more famous household names such as Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli, Donatello and Leonardo Da Vinci. But this is why we love Rome, every nook and cranny is bursting with magnificence waiting to be explored.
The Scenes from the Life of Saint Matthew are 3 mega oil on canvas paintings that depict three different stages of the life of Saint Matthew. They were so out of the ordinary for the time because the men in the scene have been painted wearing modern clothing from the time that the painting was painted, so a modern update of a biblical scene. They were painted from 1599-1600 and can be found inside the Contarelli Chapel, in the absolutely incredible church of San Luigi dei Francesi.
The Saint Matthew scenes are dramatically lit and depict the moment when Christ calls Matthew, a tax collector, to follow him. Christ observes the men sat around the table and points across to Matthew (note the hand of Christ is a nod to Michelangelo’s hand of God, from the Creation of Adam on the Sistine Chapel demonstrating Caravaggio’s appreciation of Michelangelo’s work. The way Christ’s halo is more of a subtle flicker of light is also revolutionary, and Caravaggio’s trademark way of making the saints and holy figures appear as regular folk just like the viewer worked well to draw people back into the church after the Protestant Reformation. The scene boasts Caravaggio’s skill as a ‘master of light’, which is what he is best known for along with his ‘chiaroscuro’ technique whereby he used contrasts of light and shade to make his paintings seem 3D and life like. We know that Caravaggio spent a lot of time observing the working class and the nitty gritty in bustling bar room scenes and this is where he got the top notch character studies to bring us absolute realism on a plate. No one else brings his figures as to life as much as he does.
Who is Caravaggio?
The Italian Baroque genius painter whose full name was Michelangelo Merisi Caravaggio hails from Milan and spent most of his working career in Rome, Naples, Malta and Sicily creating amazing biblical scenes depicted in a previously unseen way.
The 20th-century art historian André Berne-Joffroy stated, “What begins in the work of Caravaggio is, quite simply, modern painting.”
Where else can you see Caravaggio paintings in Rome?
The Madonna di Loretto
Boy with a Basket of Fruit and St Jerome, among the many Caravaggio’s at the Borghese Gallery
Cerasi Chapel, Santa Maria del Popolo, Piazza del Popolo
The Conversion of St Paul & The Crucifixion of St Peter
In Rome you are spoilt for choice when it comes to Baroque masterpieces and it truly is the most beautiful city in the world. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!