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Posts by M. Correia

The Two Michelangelos: Part 3


The most striking feature of the above painting “Supper at Emmaus”,  is the beardless Christ. While it is true that early representations of Christ were beardless, based on the model of Apollo, the bearded Christ, based on the Mandylion, became convention around the 6th century. There must have been a very good reason for Caravaggio to have broken with convention. If we look to the Sistine Chapel again, specifically the Last Judgement, we see the same face and gesture used by Caravaggio on the figure of Christ painted by Michelangelo:

38.Last Judgement and Emmaus copy

Caravaggio has echoed Michelangelo’s decision to use the youg beardless Christ (aka Apollo) This is our first clue as to the deeper meaning of the”Supper at Emmaus”.

Once again Caravaggio dresses his apostles and bystanders in contemporary dress. Compare the reaction of the apostles to the innkeeper, who is seemingly oblivious to the scene transpiring in front of him as the risen Christ reveals himself to apostles (from Luke 24:30 – 31). The innkeeper represents us, the everyman, who asks, “Would I have seen this miracle?”
A further clue to the meaning is the fruit basket, beautifully painted but leaning precariously on the ledge. This basket refers to the Last Judgement. From the Old Testament book of Amos 8:1-3: “This is what the Sovereign Lord showed me: a basket of ripe fruit. “What do you see, Amos?” he asked. A basket of ripe fruit,” I answered. Then the Lord said to me, ” The time is ripe for my people Israel; I will spare them no longer. “In that day”, declares the Sovereign Lord,” the songs in the Temple will turn to wailing. Many many bodies flung everywhere! Silence!

The painting is about salvation and judgement.

Many of the observations in these blog posts are sourced from the work of Italian art historian and painter Rodolfo Papa ( I studied with Professor Papa in Rome. His studies and books on Caravaggio and sacred art are very interesting but unfortunately (for now) they are only in Italian.

I also highly recommend Dr. John Spike’s book on Caravaggio which is also another source for these posts.
The best book for high quality reproductions is by Sebastion Schutze. It is 12 x 16 inches and is full of hi-res close ups. One can see paint quality in the images. Highly recommended for the Caravaggio enthusiast.

The Two Michelangelos: Part 2

You can find part 1 here: The Two Michelangelos: Part 1

This is the “Martyrdom of St. Matthew” from the Contarelli Chapel in San Luigi Francesi in Rome.

25.Caravaggio - The_Martyrdom_of_Saint_Matthew(c._1599-1600)

Caravaggio’s version of the martyrdom was inspired by the Golden Legend .  Matthew was murdered while celebrating mass in the Ethiopian city of Nadaber. He had refused to marry the King Hirtacua to Ephigenia, a consecrated virgin. Upset at this, the King sent an assassin to kill the saint.

The white vestments of Matthew set against the dark background bring our attention to the center of the painting, as the assassin stands over the saint, about to kill him. At left we see a group of young men (including Carvaggio’s self portrait at the back)  dressed in contemporary 17th C clothing (as in the “Calling”). This group could be the faithful who, upon witnessing the murder, ran to light fire to the kings palace. On the right is the altar boy running away from the scene while just behind him is the altar. The bottom group is somewhat confusing as it seems the figures are distorted and/or limbless. Could this refer to the cripples that St. Matthew was known for healing? The strange space they are in may be a reference to the Pool of Bethedusa – a healing pool in Jerusalem mentioned in St. John’s Gospel.

It is the grouping of St Matthew and the assassin that is most interesting. Once again Caravaggio references Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam, using the body of Adam in the place of the assassin. Below I have photoshopped Adam next to the assassin to demonstrate the similarity:

Caravaggio with Adam

The assassin is Adam up right, on his feet. Adam who has become sinner and been exiled from Paradise. The assassin/Adam grabs the hand of Matthew, trying to block contact with the palm of martyrdom being offered to him by the angel above. Adam here is an image of arrogance in contrast to the redemptive power offered to Matthew. It is sin that prevents us from receiving the grace of God. In this grouping Caravaggio represents the complex rapport between human and divine.

With  “The Calling of St. Matthew”, the hand of Adam became the hand of Christ that calls Matthew. In “The Martyrdom”, the body of Adam just created becomes the arrogant body of the assassin of St. Matthew. The angel above Matthew is one of the angles from the flight of the angels within God the Divine Creator.

In the next post we will see how Caravaggio continues to reference the Sistine Chapel in his painting of  “Supper at Emmaus”.

The Two Michelangelos: Part 1

Michelangelo Buonarotti and Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio that is.

By Marthino Correia

Caravaggio, like any master, understood art history and was able to play with the language of art to make complex theological statements. A continual source for him was Michelangelo and we find Caravaggio quoting the great master in many of his paintings.

In the Contarelli Chapel (1599 – 1600) in San Luigi Francesi in Rome, Caravaggio was granted his first major commission. On his death in 1585 the French cardinal, Matthieu Cointerel (Contarelli in Italian) had left a large sum of money and instructions for a chapel to be dedicated to his patron saint, St. Matthew. Caravaggio completed the commissions on canvas, something unheard of for large murals at that time which were usually executed in fresco. Three large painting were finished in 8 months.

In the first painting, “The Calling Of St Matthew”, we see Christ calling Matthew, aka Levi, as described in Matthew 9.9: “And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, follow me. And he arose, and followed him.”


Caravaggio gives Christ the hand of Adam from the Sistine Chapel’s “Creation of Man”, signalling the similarity between God and man and the human nature of Christ: Christ is the new Adam. Notice also how Peter, the first pope, echoes the gesture, describing how the Church continues the work of Christ.



Matthew and his colleagues are dressed in clothing contemporary to Caravaggio, from the early 17th C, while Christ and Peter are dressed in what would be early 1st C wear. This emphasizes that Christ’s call is eternal, for all people of all ages.

Caravaggio was the perfect counter-reformation painter. A complicated individual but entirely professional and profound in his work. In the next post we will look at the complex and interesting theology presented by Caravaggio in a second painting in the chapel, “The Martyrdom of St. Matthew”.

M. Correia