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Self-reference in Caravaggio's Calling of St. Matthew

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Library
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  • Linguistics
  • Literature


Among Caravaggio’s most critically successful commissions, the Contarelli Chapel’s Calling of St. Matthew was also his first major, public, religious historia, and a turning point in the artist’s stylistic progression. Caravaggio’s Calling of St. Matthew is a highly self-referential painting, a demonstration piece in the fullest sense, and yet, scholarship has not considered the canvas as a statement about “painting,” aside from noting its explicit reference to Michelangelo’s Sistine Creation of Adam. This paper interprets the Calling as a painting about “painting,” drawing attention to the prominent window, Caravaggio’s use of light and color, and other formal aspects. It situates the Calling’s self-reference in relation to contemporary criticism and biographies of the artist, positing the painting as an “artist-in-his-studio” picture and exploring the Calling’s interaction with its facing pendant, the Martyrdom of St. Matthew.

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