The following pictures are the result of a commission for the Contrarelli chapel of St. Luigi del Francesi in Rome. A three-piece project, Caravaggio was to depict the life of St.Matthew; from his calling to martyrdom. While the entire altar was unbelievably beautiful, my favorite was the centerpiece which was unfortunately rejected by the church. There were two versions of the piece which was to show the illiterate St.Matthew receiving the aid of an angel to write the gospel.
Original version rejected by the church in 1600. (above)
Revised Version by Caravaggio (1600)
The first version shows an elderly saint in tattered robes whose hand is being directly guided by the angel in order to write. His feet are noticeably dirty, rough and it can even be said that he takes the full appearance of a farmer. Yet, there can be an unmistakable feeling of tenderness and delicate patience found in the bond formed between the martyr and the angel. St Matthew appears to the viewer, as a saint trusted wit the task of the gospel, but first and foremost as an ordinary man who has been called upon by the Lord himself. Perhaps it is this realistic nature that makes the entire piece so beautiful in its entirety...suddenly the viewer believes that such a saint could exist and that his capabilities were trusted for a powerful reason, or several at that.
The revised version shows the saint in vividly clored robes, well pressed and royally draped. The angel approaches him from above as to illuminate his better judgement, but does not come close to the saint's hand; St.Matthew writes the gospel by himself. He looks stronger and placed in a more dignified stance, looking more "presentable", following the expected image of a saint according to the church.
While the revised version that hangs in the Contrarelli chapel is still a grand mark of Caravaggio's trayectory, the imperfect version which is now lost is one of the most amazing paintings I have ever studied.
It inspires faith within me. A rare thing.