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Caravaggio's Martyrdom of St. Matthew, Contarelli Chapel, San Luigi Dei Francesi

Updated on November 15, 2012

The painting Caravaggio's Martyrdom of St. Matthew

Matteo Contarelli’s chapel in San Luigi Francesi (Rome) is highly celebrated for the marvelous paintings by the blessed artist Caravaggio about the calling and judgment of St Mathew, the apostle. The Painting of the ‘Martyrdom of St in scale as well as symmetry. The painting finds its place in the Chapel and is supposed to be the best Matthew’ can be considered as the masterpiece work of Caravaggio as it was original, majestic and very much perfect painting on the topic.

The beauty of the painting is very much enhanced by the artificial light supplied to the background of the painting. It appears as if the glow is originating from the window found behind the altar. Visitors can view the painting kept near the altar in the light of a light serene candlelight. The painting also has a Greek cross marked on the facing direction. It is highly adorable in the magnificent dark background and beautiful lighting. Path or step towards the picture rise parallel to the church altar (at the back). The steps are also available on the left side of the picture

A detailed look of Martyrdom of St. Matthew

Careful watching of the painting will show up a baptismal font at the background as there appear some partially naked males nearby. Another male figure is falling to the nearby step and is staring at the scene. Moreover, there also appears two stout youths bend down on the ground watching the whole scene. They are at the right side of the picture and have a mood of astonishment and wondering.

The biggest or main person in the picture is the executioner of the martyr. He is also half naked and is furiously charging at the martyr. He is very masculine and holds some weapon in his hand. As per the stroboscopic figures, he has his feet close to the right of the falling martyr. The light falls on him and he appears to be very clearly emerging from the background of the picture. He is positioned near the altar and holds the left hand of the martyr with his left hand.

Features and flaws in the painting

The artist is giving emphasis to the act of murder in this picture. The most important person or the hero in the painting is of course, the man who is thrown off to the ground, St Matthew. He is bearded and appears to be old. While the murderer is trying to use his full force and power, the victim is found to be propping up on the ground. Murderer, the gigantic youth is seizing the victims hand with his hand rushing for the final death blow. St Matthew, however, is trying to ward off the murderer and appears to turn as an angel is appearing with the martyr’s palm-leaf to be given to his open hand.

In the picture ‘the martyrdom of Saint Matthew’ there are several flaws that steal the perfection of the painting. The imperfect surroundings and settings and the awkward positioning of the characters reduces the beauty of the picture. In the picture it is doubtful whether the murderer is really in the fellowship with the other people who appear in the painting, especially the half naked man leaning down on the foreground. The meaning of the positioning, appearance and setting of these characters is also least clear. The picture also did not succeed in conveying the matter in the best way. The viewer will not able to comprehend the true situation through the picture and will instead have more doubts about the background and the characters that appear in the picture. Masculinity is over emphasized in the picture with several half naked males seen around the martyr and the executioner. The staring and the reaction of these people are also very much suspicious creating a doubt whether they really belong to the group of the executioner or not. There appear several men with different reactions to the act happening there. Some are found to be astonished and some are simply watching the act. The physical positioning of these people is also not perfect in this picture. It is clear that the artist has placed these people in awkward positions; some leaning over the steps and some on the ground. The placing of the characters is not perfect as far as the situation (act) in the picture is concerned. The painting rises up several doubts also, which tells about the imperfections and flaws in the picture. The background of the place where the act takes place in the picture is also very much awkward and doubtful. The altar and the steps at two sides is very uncommon and questions the originality of the picture.

St. Matthew, the apostle of Jesus Christ

St. Matthew, the apostle of Jesus Christ was born as Levi son of Alphaeus (mentioned in Gospel according to St. Mark). He is supposed to be the writer of the first Gospel. Before he was chosen by Jesus as his disciple, he was a tax collector in the land of Capharnaum. St. Matthew performed the ministry of the gospel of Jesus Christ in Ethiopia following the scattering of the apostle after the crucification and resurrection of Jesus. He was a great apostle and performed the ministry of the good news of Jesus. St. Matthew unmasked two magicians in that place who were considered as gods and also took victory over magicians’ dragons and also resurrected King Hegesippus daughter who also believed in the gospel. St. Matthew was executed for showing his objection of the King Hirtiacus’ marriage with his niece Iphigenia. He was treated cruelly and was beheaded.


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