Caravaggio – The Calling of St Matthew – part2

The Calling

Let’s continue to discover the masterpiece of Caravaggio –  “The Calling of St Matthew” – part2

Let’s go!

In the last part of the previous post we learned that Drawing a line from Jesus’ eyes, and following the top of his hand, we can perfectly reach the bearded man. So it seems Jesus is pointing at him…

However, look what happens if the line goes under Jesus’ hand following perfectly parallel the light…

And we draw another parallel line that follows Saint Peter’s hand… Surprise! Now it seems that everything indicates the young man as Matthew.

The Calling of St Matthew - Caravaggio - Jesus's and Peter's neon lines
The Calling of St Matthew - Caravaggio - Baroque Painting

The New Theory

So who is “right”?? Well both and none.

Here what I think based on my studies and experience on Caravaggio. Both the young man and bearded man is Matthew. The young man represents the young Matthew during his activity of tax collector before the faith touches him, while the bearded man is a mature Matthew changed by the light of God.

The body language helps also to understand that: the young man is just nodding on the money, perfectly focused on it without noticing what it is happening around him, he is keeping tight on his left hand a bag of money. Conversely, the bearded man is really astonished: his eyes staring at Jesus and his torso and legs twisted in surprise as well.

The Hands

But one of the main “details” that makes me think they are the same person is their hands: the young is keeping the money collecting it in front of him, while the bearded man is caught in a clear gesture of giving it. This two hands so opposed in the gesture and in the shapes (we see 3 fingers starting from the pinkie of the young and thumb and forefinger of the bearded man) seem not just touching each other, but almost one single hand! A connection between the young greedy/sinner Matthew and the wise Saint Matthew.

The Calling of St Matthew - Caravaggio - detail Matthew
The Calling of St Matthew - Caravaggio - detail Matthew

The old man between them could represents the transition. Getting old, Matthew started to really see what it is important in life and, again, I do not think it is a coincidence the fact that we cannot see the old man’s eyes to understand if he is looking at the money or the hands…

Now the bearded man’s left hand seems to have a clearer meaning. We do not know if he is pointing at himself or the young man because probably he is indicating both. That is why his left hand is between his chest and the young’s head and maybe because instead of indicating just with the forefinger (like we usually do and both Jesus and Peter are doing as well) he is using also the thumb. Two fingers…one pointing at the young man’s direction and the thumb exactly to his face…

St Peter “mistery”

One last point. Studying the painting with x-rays, researchers discovered that the figure of (what we think to be) Saint Peter was added by Caravaggio in a second time.

We do not know why, but it is interesting the fact that Saint Peter is pointing to someone while there was already Jesus doing it… It is true that Caravaggio was irreverent (we are going to learn more about it in the next posts). However, it is true also that he was used to give a meaning to every character, in particular someone so important to stay with Jesus. That means we have 2 important figures: Jesus and Peter pointing in parallel to 2 figures sat at the table.


Before I said that Jesus is leaving, but what does it help us to be sure about it? Find the visual element in the interactive image below.

I hope you enjoyed reading this post. As you can see, Art is so fascinating and full of meanings! Watch the video post because you can find out more details thanks also to the animations and remember to share with your friends!

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Discover more about The Calling of St Matthew with many cool animations

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