Next Time in Rome: Caravaggio’s “Calling of St. Matthew” at San Luigi dei Francesi

From the now-infamous interview of Pope Francis:

That finger of Jesus, pointing at Matthew. That’s me. I feel like him. Like Matthew.” Here the pope becomes determined, as if he had finally found the image he was looking for: “It is the gesture of Matthew that strikes me: he holds on to his money as if to say, ‘No, not me! No, this money is mine.’ Here, this is me, a sinner on whom the Lord has turned his gaze. And this is what I said when they asked me if I would accept my election as pontiff.” Then the pope whispers in Latin: “I am a sinner, but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I accept in a spirit of penance.

The Calling of Saint Matthew, Caravaggio (1599-1600) [Click for high resolution]

The Calling of Saint Matthew, Caravaggio (1599-1600) [Click for high resolution]

Two things: first, I am certain that while I have walked past San Luigi dei Francesi, National Church of France in Rome (near the Piazza Navona), several times, based upon the pictures of the interior I have not been inside it, yet. That will change the next time I am there. If Pope Francis stood before this painting, and “contemplated” it, it is likely worthy of contemplation!

Second, although I am no art scholar, I understand that there is not general agreement concerning the figure of Matthew in this painting. It seems that Pope Francis subscribes to the minority view, in that the young man staring down at his money is the person who Francis identifies as Matthew.

However, some argue that the bearded fellow pensively looking back at Jesus while pointing to himself — as if to say, “Who? Me?” — is Matthew. The basis for this is that Caravaggio also painted two other works in this series: The Inspiration of St. Matthew and The Martyrdom of St. Matthew. The bearded man surely appears as St. Matthew in Inspiration. It is also possible that the bearded man is actually pointing at the young man who Francis identifies as Matthew.

Chronologically, I see nothing wrong with a younger man being depicted as Matthew in Calling, while an older one appears in Inspiration and Martyrdom. Or, perhaps two Matthews are shown, since God stands outside of time? That said, I won’t give an opinion right now. What do you think?

[Another thought – Seated at the table are: a boy (10?), a youth (15?), a young man (25 or so; the one looking down at his coins), a middle-aged man (bearded; who, me?), and an elderly man. ALL ST. MATTHEW?]

[UPDATE: (10/12/2013) I’ve studied the painting a bit more. I think the bearded man must be St. Matthew, and the one who Pope Francis references in the interview. The arms of the young man looking down are folded. The bearded man’s right hand is almost touching the coins. There is a small ledger book, inkwell and quills, as well as a money purse, all arranged around the bearded man, as though he’s set up office for tax collection.]


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