Caravaggio - the call of apostle Matthew

Caravaggio, The call of Matthew
Caravaggio, The call of Matthew (Roma 1600)


The call of a tax collector

A duty room, naked and not whitewashed the walls, a window without light, raw table and rough bank.
Five men playing cards and money on the table, busy with counting  money - her daily occupation.
Beam of light from the outside, in the beam of light the customs officers, in the shade of the darkest corner Jesus and the apostle Peter.
On the left, all people are dressed with clothes similar to the 1600’s fashion, to the right Jesus and Peter in antique garments, barefoot, with traveling sticks.
The colors are dark and subdued, the scene seems as if lightened with spotlights, not to suspect with the light stream of the mercy.


Text - Introduction to the Painting

Two men in historical, poor clothing, barefoot with a stick, enter a customs house. The room is plain, the walls are not plastered; a blind window and the most essential wooden furniture are all that there is. The blind on the window could even suggest a view of the open landscape. The beam of light that penetrates the room from the top right is striking and illuminates the scene. It is as bright as a stage light, the figures shine in highlights and total shadow, light and dark, like in a film. By the way, the large painting is situated to the left of the side chapel of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome, so that the light really does fall through the pierced bulkhead as depicted in the painting, which Caravaggio of course observed and applied precisely. We know that the painter often worked with artificial light and was well known for this.

Five figures sit at a table in contemporary clothing playing dice. Their facial expressions range from apathetic to highly interested. On the far left, a young tax collector is greedily counting the coins; perhaps he is also allowing some to disappear into his bend right hand. To the rear there is a wise old man wearing eye glasses (!) and next to him a character head of a man and a young dandy in a fashionable beret, seen from behind and to the side there is a thug with a rider's foil banned at that time - jumping to his feet immediately to challenge the intruders

These two intruders from the right are Jesus and Peter. Bare, dusty feet; the painter shocked society many times with this in around 1600. It is a message: Jesus is one of us, poor and always on the move. One only sees Jesus' head in the beam of light, his gaze is challenging and his hands refer to Matthew in the line of light. Jesus does not give orders, he invites one to accept a vocation freely. Now, immediately, forever! The hand of Jesus is modelled on Michelangelo Buonarotti's Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel in Rome - and it is the hand of Adam, not an autocratic command but the power of grace. Peter repeats the gesture with his right hand, thus the Church also calls within the historical context and sanctifies those who answer the call. Peter was only painted later on following criticism, in order to make the painting more ecclesiastical. The Pope follows the Lord - but the painter himself emphasizes the earthly, the human and the lowly through the floor and the dusty bare feet. This was well understood in Rome!

Who is being called? Obviously, the light of grace falling from the top right follows the tax collector in the middle, who is pointing his left index finger questioningly at himself: "Who do you mean, me?" Recently there has also been the barely sustainable assumption that this index finger points to the gambling-addicted young tax collector: "What? This one here?” Whatever it may be, the intrusion of vocation and grace is enormous, "this tax collector here" is being called by the Lord. There is no Heaven overhead, everything is happening in everyday life. The dandified youngster also exists today: "For a bit and not too long, yes I would follow thee!" The words of the Bible faithfully and relentlessly applied to the present day. It is no surprise that this high art originally has to prevail in the face of denouncement.


Call of the apostle Matthew

Jesus saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.

While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

He heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

(Matthew 9,9)

Caravaggio - Five tax collectors -Matthew apostle call

Five tax collectors - despised the occupation
and who exercise it.
". . . not like these customs officers
Mattew or Zachäus there!"


On the top left - an old fox, money as an elixir of life.
The youngster counts money/player? "Does he need it"?
The apostle's head points with the index finger 
     to Jesus - "I? Or. . . "
The youth who does not fit in this round, milk face.
Completely on the right: Astride at the bank
     there sits a crook,
a braggart with infamous fashion foil,
     forbidden at that time,
a street hoodlum, on the jump to the defence. 



An open question (also with art experts):

Is Jesus pointing at the man in the middle
      or the boy on the left?

           The question just recently becomes
                 very controversially discussed.



no time - business and stress

No time:




Count money

No interest






Jesus from the darkest corner -
Face and hand, a look, a call:
"Follow me, now and forever!"
Follow me!

Peter covers Jesus, he invites like Jesus (index finger!) -
this is the church today, the Peter's job!
The Peter's insertion was forced upon Caravaggio,
to make visible the papacy . . .
The clients were infuriated about the painter!





Naked feet –
dirt of the street.

So the picture
for decades
with cloths

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