The Calling of St. Matthew by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio in Urban Warfare of the Baroque Period as a Function of pre-Nationalist Demarcation from Absolutism in Form as a Function of Style

The Calling of St. Matthew by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio in Urban Warfare of the Baroque Period as a Function of pre-Nationalist Demarcation from Absolutism in Form as a Function of Style

Paul Andreas Fischer


Professor Kelsey Brosnan


The Calling of St. Matthew by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio in Urban Warfare of the Baroque Period as a Function of pre-Nationalist Demarcation from Absolutism in Form as a Function of Style

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio began a movement of art that has permeated society in a distinct manner through modern cultural representations of dance and photography, while defining social norms in which members of the greater artistic community perform their roles. The use of lighting to psychologically dominate the onlooker, formulaic precision as a pavement to success, and use of the body politic to emphasize the expression of urban warfare demonstrates the reactionary expansion of Caravaggio’s work into a rational artistic development of the Baroque period. Rejection of the customary transposition in religious ideals seen in The Calling of St. Matthew (figure 1) by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio developed a perpetually tangible coherence in artistic representation of rigor in geometry.

Use of religious terminology in definition of the artistic work of Caravaggio gave a biographical value to the narrative in work, and a detailed analysis of content and form will be provided. This painting is an oil on canvas piece which defines the vestiges of the Baroque era of wild abandon in the Renaissance decades before a definitive break in the social norms which define that period expire to the rigor necessitated by technological advances and community demands which were offered to and placed upon artists. Key to this development are the expansion of literacy and primacy in approach which work convergently to create some new dynamic in the popular reception of art.

Literacy of the Artist and the Community

This work is decidedly formal in nature and the cross-sectionality of the lighting can be reversed such that every character in the painting takes on a reversal in attitude. The furrowed brow of the young man with a light rapier at his side is not now allowed to expand in anticipation, perhaps of a fight or potential winnings (figure 6). The young apprentice by his pile of money conversely drawn downwards by study which could have been an upwards gaze in anticipation from a reflection off of the coins in hand (figure 4). Finally, the surprised onlookers at the center of the piece would have their brows furrowed by the new directionality of the light (figure 3). Fittingly, the only characters who would be unchanged by such a shift in lighting would be Christ, St. Matthew, and St. Peter. Religiously, those who had been portrayed in many ways before could now be read in one light by each literate member of society individually by virtue of the invention of the Gutenberg Press.

Sometimes the vernacular can mean artistically the explicit or provocative, which cannot be emphasized or stated in an evaluation of the good that literature, music, and dance revived from the spread of literacy to match a centuries-old explosion in population through Europe without a complete discussion of the manner in which the new form of communication and discourse was received. Shortly, this indicates the lasting nature of the upheaval in customary transposition which has been  In order to fully develop this argument, national ambitions which are set forth in artwork and poetry in generations subsequent to the critical year 1600 will be laid out. A smooth transition in form directs the ambitious but less effective rhetorical nationalism in the work of Rubens to the rigor in form found from the work of Velázquez.
The work of Michelangelo de Caravaggio establishes the vernacular visually in the painting The Calling of St. Matthew. The purpose of the investigation behind the contrast and lighting in the work determines that this painting was a shocking and terrifying experience to behold for clergy and audiences contemporary to the time.

Exploration of the style of the painting will not suffice, however, to achieve the conceptualization of the manner in which the artistic work of Caravaggio influenced later artists and his own community. More importantly, it misses the way that his own actions also were ignored by a community lost in the logic of the Classical period. While the religious statement seen in the painting was to be so outdated to a rigorous decision making process for artists’ early development as Christianity sprang outwards across Europe in the Middle Ages, the rejection of small miracles and divinity for the reality of early urban community’s recognition of great miracles and of visions which could overwhelm the artistic desire would be embraced in a natural sense.

Looking at the painting directly, it becomes clear that a break in normalized hierarchy is used to emphasize the calm nature of the elder. While the young man is armed for a monetary transaction, the rest of those involved are equipped with little more effective than a breadknife. Striking light into the room adds to a sense of surprise and depth. These are critical elements which will be dealt with in respect to later and more intensive efforts at artistic expression and lend credence to the nature of the rigorous investment component within his work.

Caravaggio’s Style and Technique Rejects Typification as a Parrot of the Paints

This is an example of the painterly before the Baroque painting had emerged. Within a century, the entire continent would reach the same stylistic panacea. Not all was as it seems, however, and no modernist completion to the form would be emphasized through such work.

Use of lighting in Caravaggio gives insight into the lifestyle of the painter and makes a significant difference to the behaviors of the individual himself as well as the society around him. It is well documented that he may have been illiterate, and this reputation as a parrot of the paints dominated the interpretation, both of his violent acts of inebriety as well as his professional artwork, which critics found for centuries. In the early 20th century, evidence emerged that his failure to pay rent in fact instigated a series of events which precipitated the misunderstanding after theft of his books and belongings.

The Calling of St. Matthew shows both literacy and astute care to the setting of his work. Unlike the squalor which surrounded his work, a strange brevity in accuracy is found to point at a single object which emphasizes a concept, in this case coins and arms. In order to understand how this stands out as an exceptional case of narrative painting, mysterious circumstance should be addressed as a possible factor in the development of the painting.

The nature of a mysterious in opposition to a certain circumstance can be seen in the series of paintings Mary de Medici Cycle by Peter Paul Rubens, specifically Henry IV Receiving the Portrait that currently resides in the Musée des Louvre in Paris. In this painting, which does date to slightly after the work discussed of Caravaggio, the lighting is focused to the bottom part of the painting, which focuses the viewer’s eyes upwards in admiration, but only in part of the painting. Later artwork will take advantage of the invention of tall candles and other dramatic forms of illumination to subvert the adoration of absolute monarchists into an intimidated dogma of nationalism, which begins with The Calling of St. Matthew.

Nationalism comes close to describing the fervor which surrounded leaders at this time, and a prayer contemporary to the time describes the excitement and anticipation of this moment as, “Virtue will return, with the laurel crowned,/ and her just favors bestowed upon true merit,/ will reawaken the excellence of the arts.” This was a prophecy as much as a prayer, and the discussion of the divinity of the right of King Henry IV can be evaluated as a function of glorification of absolutism in form (Rosenberg, 11-12). Creation of the “adorable” using inferior lighting is a short distance in theory from the glorification in themes which will become characteristic of absolutist nationalism.

An explorative journey is induced which changes the understanding of the painterly style which is not present in this painting. The patron of the piece is seen to be female, which reaffirms the communication between the artist and the painter and is indicative of the artist’s wish to conform to the needs of the painting. There is natural rejection which presents in the work of Caravaggio, and pastoral biblical scenes are accompanied by dramatic intercommunications.

One critical point which proves the literacy of Caravaggio through The Calling of St. Matthew was the inclination of Matthew towards immediate conversion (Culler, 7). This could not have occurred over time, it must have been the result of a vision upon the sight of Christ, and the actions of Peter, who points or gestures. Those are actions which indicate that all but the young see this apparition.

The young man is bewildered by the narrative. The buried head seen in figure 4 demonstrates a lack of familiarity with the use weaponry in a manner complicit with the ideals at hand. Soon gunpowder made even the walls and heavy fortifications of politic and finance alike comparatively useless. The impact on mothers who cried over the spilt blood of warriors was greater with the urban conflict, and the changes culturally as well as politically are Cicorean in nature in a manner similar to the introduction of the short sword and hand axe in place of poles and spears that preceded them. It only cost a gold piece to satiate a tax collector, but a pound of flesh for a vengeful merchant, after all, according to popular culture of the time (Shakespeare, ll. 307-308).

Style as a Form of Intimidation

The style of Caravaggio could be imagined as a grotesque and primal pioneer of was destroyed and resurrected through the lens of the neoclassical style in the flames of Revolution. Invention of chiaroscuro, manipulation of light, and narrative rejection of nationalism was marked by his the manipulation of the viewer’s eyes through use of lighting. Evidence demonstrated in the work before, after, and contemporary to the work of Caravaggio shows that a rigor in style lends to the widely ascribed geometry and sobriety of later churrigueresque artwork. With a patron in the church, the appeal of an ordinary and communicative discourse between the artist and the poor, through such generally accessible characters as those found in the bible, is an attraction which remains present in successful artwork in modern history (figure 15). This makes the political impact of Caravaggio reactionary in nature. Finally, his work continues to reverberate somehow and the mass appeal of various types of lighting as well as politicization of artistry remain.

Evaluation of a religious artist using the tool which is found in discussion of customary transposition in religious ideals creates a necessity to first define and then to apply the terminologies of the relevant concepts. Karl Barth defines the term religiously, emphasizing with the introduction of a neutered spiritual power that “the customary transposition of the divine being into a neutral absolute, to an anthropocentricity which is secretly at work in response to the revelation of God” (Barth, 296). In order to capture the terminology artistically, some raw emotive power and controversy must be drawn upon. Both are present in the story and the actuality of the artistic work of Caravaggio in The Calling of St. Matthew.

It is natural for discussion of the small miracle to include that counteraction against a greater evil, or an organized crime. That fear was realized centuries later for descendents of the patrons of Caravaggio’s art. In the same sense, there is a natural pessimism in the work that followed a concept fostering the emergence of Caravaggio’s style such as Adam and Eve by Albrecht Dürer, an engraving from 1504 seen in figure 8. This accompanies and precludes other cultural representations which would have been contemporary to the Baroque period, including the literary masterpiece Paradise Lost by John Milton lyrically recounting a greater good, “he whom mutual league, united thoughts and counsels… glory never shall his wrath or might/ Extort from me” (Milton, ll. 87-111) such that the outline for the grounds in the introduction of a greater benevolence was set.

Keeping the viewer focused in a contemplative pose with their eyes downward reverberated throughout the intellectual communities and discourse, and maintenance of hierarchy can be correctly seen through the work of Caravaggio to be of paramount importance to the Christian ideology and European dominance which was subsequent to the inferiority of the plague and suffering of the previous generations. As Matthew is “in the act of conversion itself… realization is delayed for a brief moment” throughout the artistic work, this indicates a rigorous adherence to religious ideology which was characteristic of upheaval. In a certain way this was being retold and visually portrayed for the consumption of the masses centuries before the masses would have any access to but ripples of the artistic revolution.

Urban Warfare in the Renaissance and the Obsolescence of Older Technology

There is a personality to urban warfare which was unique to the moment when Caravaggio painted, and the weaponry in this painting may have been something akin to the use of arms by rap stars in today’s music videos (50 Cent, OK). What had been relegated to the realm of stories and the biblical testament of the slave driven work camps of the Romans was becoming a part of the every day, and needed great artistic projection of the imagery. At the end of the selection, confusion presented itself directly within the communicative style and a greater precision without hampering the style the artist found necessitated.

Returning to the painting, the hilt of a light rapier, nearly half the size of the older generations’ swords, developed to mobilize a new level of youth involvement in urban warfare (figures 12 and 13) which had been virtually nonexistent previously. The nature of this critical brutality that would later consume Europe’s young into the most deadly of wars to that point, the Thirty Years War, had already begun to surface before Calling of St. Matthew in as early as 1579 with the Vernichtungsstrategie exemplified by the quote “when soever he made ostying or inrode, into the enemies Countrey, he killed mane, woman, and child” from Northern Europe as hierarchy and size of armies began to increase (Parker, 205). Even as Vienna suffered continued sieges, quarrels amongst families enriched for the first time began to become imagined as the norm. The light which in earlier pieces of artwork such as Four Apostles by Albrecht Dürer encouraged the viewer to look up in childish adoration was replaced by a superior lighting that directed the scholarly contemplation of the higher concepts which were now being explored by artists.

In the representation of The Calling of St. Matthew, introduction of the presence of arms shows that the anarchic discourse of transactions without a market is not lost or reduced. More importantly, that young man does not draw or have need to use his rapier, loosely hung at his side, as satiated in the company of the benevolent as the thieves and vagabonds that preceded modern banking were satiated in the blood and belongings of those who failed to invest in the extortion implied in the transaction of security (figure 6). Whether urban warfare allowed by such light and deadly weaponry was transforming society by bringing the dead to the doorsteps and gutters of the investors and families who needed their sacrifice to survive or inventions which included complex architecture, modern locksmithing, and irreproducibility in art, bank notes, or identity made the brutality of ancient conflict insignificant is lost to the viewer.

Light weaponry as a focus of the work of Caravaggio is remarkable and unique to his own experience as a painter. Living in squalid conditions, unable to pay rent and in the center of this new norm of urban warfare which returned to the Italian countryside after over a millennia, the importance of the short sword and dagger required a familiarity with literature beyond the bible. It demonstrates a definitive knowledge of a complete classical education, of the sort only available at certain prestigious and ancient universities.

St. Peter shuffles in the painting with the encumbrance of the ceremonial blade, which makes the necessity for intentionality before use of such a weapon clear (figure 14). The young man is in motion, and ready to spring from the chair in an instant (figure 11). There must be some considerations to the communication from ineffective bronze weapons into the short daggers which made Roman Legions particularly deadly in nature, using the old to incapacitate victims and the new to extinguish naturally low rates of recovery.

Lighting in Constructive Outline Conducive to Caravaggio’s Vision of the Evolution of Warfare

The bazaar was a place of trade, meeting, and communication, something akin to the English pub and stock companies or the European banks, bars, and nightclubs which mark the modern era. The etymological comparison between bar as a shortened form of bazaar cannot be likely a direct mistake. An early architectural impetus for revolution can be found to hint at the extension and development of the futuristic means of communication and of exchange which separated exchange using financial instruments from the everyday ordinary emotions, sickness, wars, or even the youth interfering with fair and just transactions (figure 4).

With the introduction of a bourgeoisie and merchant class, or the capitalist, across Europe much later than the rest of the world, finally the rigid social hierarchy of nobility and royalty began to weaken. Good things come to those who wait, and the late onset of such a change also meant that the extent and the velocity of the social changes were intensified compared to other parts of the world. Family structures changed dramatically and in addition to such social architecture, change can be more readily observed in physical architectures of buildings and artistic styles that, until then, had been relegated to religious Cathedrals within structure and from beyond. With these structural elements, the nature of the artistic work would also become redeveloped to emphasize the new religious concepts which were taking hold of various modes of cultural expression.

In The Calling of St. Michael, Michelangelo Caravaggio carefully selects the accompanying crowd who will oversee the failed transaction, that was dinner ending in harsh words. The passage which the painting tells of both scores in directionality and in content from the nature of sickness and health. In the painting, something is pointed at and another young man, possibly one of the sinners but in all likelihood an apprentice to the tax collectors, is armed and alerted, but still cautious (figure 5 and 6). This gives insight to the concerns of new forms of urban warfare, enabled by finer expertise in technological construction of the modern sword, or in this case rapier, and allows yet a further modernization of the biblical themes with a poignant defense of the older characters in the painting. It also redirects the exclamation of Christ, that doctors should be left for the sick into a message against the interfamilial wars which plagued Europe at the time of Caravaggio rather than a plea to the tax collectors and sinners who ignored the colonies of lepers, and victims of disease.

Poverty as an Underlying Source of Urban Warfare

Expansion of the concept of artistic representation of the economic transformations protecting or endangering those close to artists elucidated the concerns of disease and reference to escape through a subtle domination. The conceptualization of such direction did not exist prior to this eclipse of the outward momentum of the stylistic conflagration which Caravaggio was indicative of in nature. It did absolutely no good for his work to see superior lighting, representation of the act of conversion and introduction of money to shock the onlooker without a dramatic change in the nature of the onlookers themselves (Wendt).

Velázquez not only reproduced into and was part of a greater movement in enhancing the rigor of artistic work that Caravaggio helped to ignite, but also extended the importance of lighting into a cumulative perfection in colors as well. The distortion which can be seen in his artwork (figure 10) tackles the difficult in artistic composition also provides an exceptional comparative factor to the themes of warfare among the work of Caravaggio. In the same way that a beam of light, robes and fashion indicates the holy or imperfect nature of Christ, the sinners and other characters, Velázquez can be seen to use green and brown to represent earth and growth of his patron, and the dashing warfare espoused therein (Justi, 75). As weapon increased in efficiency indicating use in urban settings, the armor obsoleted by the trends illustrated in the work of Caravaggio demanded a new attention.

For the first time since the establishment of a united Christendom through the Catholic Church, poverty became commonplace even among those of virtuous religious standing, an event which was immortalized in confrontations such as the arrest of Thomas Aquinas in England and later conflict in Protestant and Reformed Catholic leadership throughout greater Europe. The relationship between the financiers and the changing horizons of religion can be seen as an elderly man is at ease with his calculations but the traumatized young are hunched over their work (figure 4). More of this redefinition in artistic expression would be necessitated for Caravaggio to shrink from the reality of a coming compression in artistic means through scalable growth across Europe, as the form of stylistic development.

Execution of expansion from objectives to ideals for religious doctrines were not limited to this time period, but are definitely noted through work in this time period. Visually, Caravaggio demands a subtle attention in scale to the narrative pattern of his artwork by using bold lighting popularized in previous centuries to create a subservient and groveling audience, which reflected the ambitious attitude of early Church reactionism. The light beam seen is in a direct contrast with the dull window, and representative of both industrialism and makes an important point into the nature of the cross-vector lighting array (figure 9).

Representation of the small sins which were demanded through this new focus in lighting gave a contrasted conflict in behavioral response with the confusion of the new era of urban warfare, financial instruments misused in the familial sense, and scales of production which seemed to promise the near miracle of biblical scales. Such a demonstrative effort was not lost upon the focus of the productive capacities within the customary transposition as a neutered response to the miracles with whom God expected conflict and resolution from naturally evil forces (Barth, 296). Instead, a distinctively gendered substitution of miraculous episodes in constraint defused the patchwork which threatened to smother the rich and often disgustingly vibrant community culture surrounding the young and meteorically rising star of the artistic community. The biblical passage from which Caravaggio would have worked was likely an oral rendition, and this was an important message in how to reduce the influence of negative emotions to simply good words.

In subsequent generations, the narrative in his work found itself fitting as snugly as a globe by the chess set. The goals and objectives of artists not only had to change, but were finally able to. Some of this break was natural to the work of Caravaggio himself and the rest was stylistic and later demonstrated in The Triumph of King Henry IV (figure 2). Gambits as a form of artistic intellectualism aside, enforcement of the positionality of the viewers discretion gave a certain completion to development of the transitory nature found in artistic work.

Statuesque in Nature and Industrial Complicity in Form

The reach of the success of this new visual form of subjugation of the viewer must be captured through art forms outside of the painting. The work of Albrecht Dürer exemplifies the compression in artistic ambition typical of rudimentary nationalism (figure 8), and in Caravaggio a geometrical architecture and rigor is explored, but perhaps the most delightful expression of this, an execution of sorts after direct play in form, comes the work of the sculptor. These bring the lighting into a new dimensionality of style and further encrypts the intended phenomenon and feeling of release or absolution which is decidedly desirable.

Such an encryption in form has been recently designated through the work of Antonio Canova, and seen in Cupid and Psyche which dates to the French Revolution. On display at the Louvre, the granite relies on the psychology of the viewer to add the brilliant and dazzling light which refract through the wings of Cupid which are inconceivable through material means (figure 7). This demonstrates not only carefully prepared knowledge of the style typical to Caravaggio, but additionally introspective reflection on the necessity to mirror the work as painters moved from the Baroque into Rococo and eventually necessitated a return, a sort of folding of the artistic styles which intensifies viewers’ individual experience.

In the Calling of St. Matthew by Caravaggio, this encryption must be defined through the rigor of creative absolution and omission of a defined timeline for the investment in an imagined timeline that includes both the explicit and implicit as definitive to style. German analysts have attributed the violence in the work of Caravaggio to a “rough sexuality” which forces its way through his work into the creations often commissioned by church or competitors to engage a discussion of how it is Christ follows as the leader (Wilkens, 22-23). Focus on the cross-sectional lack of lighting seen through Christ and St. Peter to gain insight into the ways this can be accomplished, that darkness or evil must exist before the intimidating forces of good or light can force them outwards (figure 6 and 9).

Today, the customary transposition in religious ideals has spread across mass culture. The selfie pioneered by Marilyn Monroe (figure 15) as well as modern ballet and dance architectures are exhibitions inviting the drawing of conclusions about a societal lifestyle which is irreproducible today, and modern culture has become emblematic of his work across hundreds of years of development. Similarity to the development of the selfie momentarily impacting modern means of understanding the work of Caravaggio begins with the dominant lighting that forces the viewer into contemplation and continues in an imitative nature but difficult rigor in form all contributing to a truly successful implication of social means across the hierarchy of belief systems implicit in such artistic endeavors.

Forms of representation also play a distinctive role in cooperative norms from viewership directly throughout formidability in form. Tacit revolution is countered by the domination of the subject and framing of the object in a corporate sense of belonging. Without the use of direct narrative, such a technique becomes decidedly useless.

Fame from a simple snapshot is given by fashion in the work of Caravaggio and is not appropriately reproduced or encouraged in any way. The viewer would have had a direct and personal connection to the work which is not present in the artists but were typical of the time. This also speaks directly to The Calling of St. Matthew and the customary transposition of the individual miracle which is found in the painting. The following of the tax collector is in turn collected by Christ. With a simple idea, Marilyn Monroe opened a thumbprint sized pavement to fame for America’s women and opened the eyes of the rest of the world to social means of hierarchy which were being demolished in a way never seen without violence in history.

Rigor Beyond the Statuesque and Tertiary Analysis

The act of painting, as hunting and warfare, had been a primal endeavor of social malaise and bare necessity. Artistic and cultural works had historically pointed to the plague, to violence, or to religious discord for an inspirational sentiment, a trend which should have been accelerated by the patron system of the Renaissance. Caravaggio uncovers a unique connection to the divine as the customary transposition in evil is replaced by an altogether more terrifying equivalent in his artistic representation of the good and saintly in conflict to the developing sins of urban warfare and tyranny of misuse of financial instruments.

This is a benevolence which works in the face of the ordinary sins, multiplied through the time period in an extravagant fashion. That fundamental shift in religious thinking was a theoretical device of academic construction and development and the social creations of the Renaissance must be understood to complement political movements and a dynamic in confusion of style which has today been lost. That does not mean the authenticity of the moment has been lost.

The late latin poem dating from the early 13th century O Fortuna defines the shedding of the conceptualization of poverty as tied to sinful behavior and ushers in a new era of industrial concern for the masses. By the time of Caravaggio, the opera King Arthur by Henry Purcell began to introduce structure into the eardrums of Europe, a rigor which did not necessitate the rigidity of the older dullard implied by classical conceptions of those who approached their work as a separation of form from passion. By firmly placing The Calling of St. Matthew into a historical context, it has been possible to gain insight into the nature of urban warfare as well as the religious understanding of miracles underpinning a dramatic reconception of poverty in the modern sense of development.


Figure 1: The Calling of St. Matthew by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, 1600, oil on canvas, San Luigi dei Francesi.

Figure 2: The Triumph of Henry IV by Peter Paul Rubens, 1620, oil on wood, Met Fifth Avenue Gallery 630.

Figures 3-6: The Calling of St. Matthew by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, 1600, oil on canvas, San Luigi dei Francesi.





Figure 7: Cupid and Psyche by Antonio Canova, 1787-93, Musée de Louvre, Paris.

Figure 8: Adam and Eve by Albrecht Dürer, 1504, copper engraving, Museo del Prado.

Figure 9: Detail from The Calling of St. Matthew by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, 1600, oil on canvas, San Luigi dei Francesi.

Figure 10: Detail from Don Juan Francisco Pimentel (1584-1652), 1648

Figures 11-14: Details from The Calling of St. Matthew by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, 1600, oil on canvas, San Luigi dei Francesi.





Figure 15: Selfie taken by Marilyn Monroe c. 1940, obtained through Swann Galleries.


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