My friend Karen Patterson gave an excellent talk at the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary entitled: "Surveillance as an Art Form: Art, Life and Ai Wei Wei Under Scrutiny in the Peoples Republic of China". Karen spent 15 years, living and working in the artist community in Beijing. She was was married to the artist Wu Yuren and was a friend of Ai Weiwei. While we may know something in passing of the work of these artists, her talk gives us close up view of the day-to-day struggles they face. The recording picks up just after the intro: https://soundcloud.com/martinhoc/art-and-life-in-china
The Hispanic Society of America was founded in 1904 to promote the study of the rich artistic heritage of Spain and Portugal and their areas of influence throughout the world. The Society is located in New York City, way uptown at 155th Street and although it is free, does not receive the numbers of visitors it might if it was downtown. The Society is housed in a beautiful beaux-arts building and contains work by Velasquez, Goya and El Greco.
The high point however are the murals by Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida (1863 - 1923). The Sorolla Room's panoramic series of 14 canvases present a celebration of regional costumes and cultures entitled, "The Provinces of Spain". This video I took gives you and idea of the scale:
Caravaggio was contracted for two side paintings in the Contarelli chapel, those we have looked at in the last three posts. The project was finished and installed in 8 months. For the front wall of the chapel, the Flemish sculptor Jacob Cobaert was commissioned to complete a "St. Matthew and the Angel" which was rejected for unknown reasons a short while after being installed. The sculpture ended up in Santissima Trinita dei Pellegrini in Rome.
The church turned once again to Caravaggio, asking him to complete a painting for the space. Caravaggio produced this work:
The church rejected this painting as well and if we take a closer look it is easy to understand why. The angel is guiding St. Matthew's hand which, combined with the look on his face, makes him look rather like a simpleton. In addition, the position of the Saint's dirty left foot puts it precariously close to the eucharist when it is raised during the liturgy. The painting eventually ended up in the Kaiser-Friedrich Museum in Berlin and was destroyed by American bombing in World War II.
Caravaggio, being the consummate professional that he was, painted a second version that remains in the chapel to this day:
The most striking feature of this image 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. 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.
For those of you who are interested in reading more about Caravaggio, I highly recommend Dr. John Spike's book on Caravaggio. I have had the pleasure of studying with Dr. Spike and his book is one of the best art history books I have read. 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. Click on the Amazon widget to the right for more info.
This is the "Martyrdom of St. Matthew" from the Contarelli Chapel in San Luigi Francesi in Rome.
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:
This 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
In the next post we will see how Caravaggio continues to reference the Sistine Chapel in his painting of "Supper at Emmaus"
Martinho Isidro Correia is a fine artist and educator, a graduate of the University of Calgary (BFA in Painting), University of British Colombia in Vancouver (BEd in Art Education), Angel Academy of Art in Florence, Italy (Diploma in Drawing and Painting) and The European University/Pontifical Athenaeum, 'Regina Apostolorum' in Rome (Masters in Architecture, Sacred Art and Liturgy). Currently he teaches an on-going yearly course on Sacred Art at St. Mary's University College in Calgary, AB and summer workshops at the Angel Academy in Florence, Italy.