The Calling of Saint Matthew, painted by the Italian Baroque master Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, is widely regarded as one of his most iconic and influential compositions. Painted in 1599-1600, this painting depicts the biblical scene of Jesus calling Matthew to become a disciple. It was commissioned for the Contarelli Chapel in Rome’s Church of San Luigi dei Francesi and is considered one of Caravaggio’s first great paintings.
The painting shows Jesus pointing at Matthew with an outstretched finger as if summoning him to come forward and join him. He stands on the left side of the composition alongside two other disciples; Peter and Andrew, who point at Matthew in order to draw attention to him. The figures are illuminated from above by a light source that has been interpreted as symbolizing divine grace shining down upon them.
On the right side of the painting, there are figures representing Levi (renamed Matthew) and others who represent tax collectors and Roman soldiers. The contrast between these worldly characters – painted in dark tones – with those illuminated by divine grace on the left side serves to emphasize Jesus’ power and how it can reach out even into darkness.
Caravaggio’s depiction of this famous biblical episode has had a lasting influence on later generations of painters. His use of strong chiaroscuro lighting, his emphasis on dramatic gesture, and his bold compositional choices have all become central components of Baroque art. This masterpiece is still celebrated today for its ability to communicate emotion through simple yet powerful imagery that touches anyone who views it.