Expressive Aspects of Caravaggio’s First Inspiration of Saint Matthew

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Abstract

A new interpretation is offered here to account for Matthew’s illiterate and lowly appearance in Caravaggio’s first Inspiration of Saint Matthew. The saint’s expression of surprise as he looks at the first lines of his gospel shows that Caravaggio depicted him in a moment of sudden understanding. Divine revelation ends his earthly ignorance. In this article, Caraoaggio’s treatment of Matthew is related to historical accounts of the saint’s life. The Apostle prepares himself for and finds insight into the divine through ignorance, humility, and simplicity, qualities that had been given the imprimatur of post-Tridentine religious reformers. Caraoaggio’s approach to the subject remains personal and unique as an indecorous, ironic depiction. Recognition of the Apostle’s astonishment as a sign of divine illumination is essential if his ignorant appearance is to be understood.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)636-652
Number of pages17
JournalThe Art Bulletin
Volume67
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 1985

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • History

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