Baroque Rome – Navona and Campo

San Luigi dei Francesi

A pilgrimage spot for art lovers everywhere, San Luigi’s Contarelli Chapel is adorned with three stunningly dramatic works by Caravaggio (1571–1610), the Baroque master of the heightened approach to light and dark. At the altar end of the left nave, they were commissioned for San Luigi, the official church of Rome’s French colony (San Luigi is St. Louis, patron of France). The inevitable coin machine will light up his Calling of St. Matthew, Matthew and the Angel, and Matthew’s Martyrdom, seen from left to right, and Caravaggio’s mastery of light takes it from there. When painted, they caused considerable consternation to the clergy of San Luigi, who thought the artist’s dramatically realistic approach was scandalously disrespectful. A first version of the altarpiece was rejected; the priests were not particularly happy with the other two, either. Time has fully vindicated Caravaggio’s patron, Cardinal Francesco del Monte, who secured the commission for these works and stoutly defended them. They’re now recognized to be among the world’s greatest paintings.


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