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Caravaggio Paintings In Rome Are Waiting For You At Church

The Calling Of Matthew is one of the Caravaggio paintings in Rome in the beautiful French San Luigi dei Francesi church where you can enjoy these works In Situ.

caravaggio paintings in rome - Triptych

The Caravaggio Triptych

Since moving to Rome, my interest and appreciation for art has grown considerably. I still have my favorite style (realism) and I am happy to ignore more modern and abstract art, but living in Rome offers an amazing opportunity to enjoy works from the greatest artists in history, and one of my favorites is Caravaggio.

What Is Caravaggio’s Technique?

Caravaggio was an innovator in terms of technique. He painted without the support of drawing and this exclusive technique by Caravaggio is one of the reasons that his paintings are considered to be that of a master.

Caravaggio painted in a dark room with a small side window at the top, so as to let in only a glimmer of direct light on the scene. He would arrange the composition, almost like a photography setting, in the right relationships between the figures and the dimensions of the painting. My love for photography and the attention to light is why I am drawn to Caravaggio’s artwork.

Chiaroscuro is the name of the dominant technique that Caravaggio employed in his work. Chiaroscuro, which translates to Light/Dark, is an artistic lighting effect which consists of highlighting the images through the definition of light and shadows on the paintings by superimposing the “light” and “dark” shades. 

caravaggio paintings in rome - The Calling of St. Matthew

The Calling of St. Matthew

Caravaggio Paintings In Rome Are In Which Church?

Caravaggio’s paintings can be found all over Rome in churches, galleries, a palazzo and museums, but my favorite is the cycle of Saint Matthew in the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi.

The church of San Luigi dei Francesi is a Catholic house of worship in Rome that overlooks the piazza of the same name. The church is not far from Piazza Navona, the Pantheon and it is in the Sant’Eustachio district, which also has the very popular Sant’Eustachio il Caffè, if you are in the mood for a quick pick-me-up. It has been the national church of the French in Rome since 1589.

These three paintings, which I believe are considered to be a triptych, are tucked away in the corner chapel of the church and definitely worth visiting. Best of all, admission to the church is free, and if you don’t want to spend €2 to turn on the lights for viewing, just wait a few minutes and someone will do it for you.

The Calling Of Saint Matthew

This is the first painting on the left and it shows Christ, using the same gesture as Adam in the fresco of the creation of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel, asking Matthew to follow his call. It is this outstretched hand that crosses the “void” that separates the two groups of characters, which represents the separation between the human and the divine, sin and grace. Christ awaits Matthew’s answer, who will have to leave his money to follow these men whose bare feet express poverty.

caravaggio paintings in rome -  The Inspiration of St. Matthew

The Inspiration of St. Matthew

The Inspiration Of St. Matthew

This masterpiece contains an angel who with gentle indulgence guides the saint’s uncertain hand as he writes. The angel counts on his fingers, in the traditional scholastic fashion, the arguments that the saint should take note of and develop. A whirlwind of drapery envelops the angel.

The Martyrdom Of St. Matthew

In this third painting of the cycle, which is to the right, it shows Saint Matthew being killed on the orders of the king of Ethiopia while celebrating Mass at the altar. This painting is believed to have caused Caravaggio considerable difficulty because he had never painted on such a large canvas, nor one with so many figures.

caravaggio paintings in rome - The Martyrdom of St. Matthew

The Martyrdom of St. Matthew

Why Do They Call Him Caravaggio?

Michelangelo Merisi was known as Caravaggio, which is a name he took from the homonymous village near Milan, where he was born in 1571. This is where he learned the trade in the workshop of Simone Peterzano, where he learned the love for nature, the practice of painting from still-life and from a model and with particular attention to the effects of light.

How Did Caravaggio Die?

On May 26, 1606, he fought a duel and in it he killed his opponent. Because of this killing, he was forced to flee. He was sentenced to death in absentia and as a result, he spent the last four years of his life fleeing persecution, but without ever ceasing to paint and often managing to sell his paintings at very high prices.

He first fled to Latium, then found safety in Naples where he remained for a year before leaving for the island of Malta. There, he managed to become a Knight of the Order of Malta. Most likely because they had learned that he was an assassin, he was deposed and imprisoned. He escaped his jail to find refuge in Messina and then in Palermo before returning to Naples.

Caravaggio Paintings In Rome - The French Church In Rome

The French Church In Rome

Through all his travels, he never stopped hoping for a pardon from the Pope. It was on the road that led him to Rome, where he was going to try to convince the Pope of his repentance, that he died on July 18, 1610 on the beach of Porto Ercole, which is north of Rome, in unknown circumstances.

Where Can I See Caravaggio Paintings In Rome?

As I wrote about earlier, Caravaggio paintings in Rome are everywhere, but also around Italy and even across Europe. You can spend a considerable amount of time trying to see all the treasures he has left us, but if your time is limited, I would recommend checking out these posts that talk about, among other things, the Caravaggio works you can see in each location. If you only want to choose one place to visit, start with the first one on the list: 

Caravaggio Paintings In Rome - The Altar

The Altar of The French Church

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