Artibus et Historiae no. 22 (XI)

1990, ISSN 0391-9064

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FRANCA TRINCHIERI CAMIZ - Death and Rebirth in Caravaggio's Martyrdom of St. Matthew

It has usually been assumed that Caravaggio reworked his Martyrdom ofSt. Matthew in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome, because he was dissatisfied with the composition. In his second version, however, there is a significant change in the picture's iconography, which departs from the more traditional aspects of the known biography of the apostle.

Three male nudes appear in the lower section of the redone painting. These have been variously labeled repoussoirs or neophytes seated in a baptismal pool, the water of which is no longer discernible. In support of a baptismal setting, this article reviews evidence derived from the contracts for the picture, as well as from an analysis of apostles' vitae, rules for the design of baptismal chapels, and ritual practices prevalent in Caravaggio's time. By conflating baptism and martyrdom in his composition, Caravaggio linked death with spiritual rebirth -an appropriate theme for the burial chapel in which the painting hangs.

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