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Caravaggio, Contarelli Chapel, San Luigi dei Francesi

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(bouncy piano music) >> We're in San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome. >> A couple blocks from the Piazza Navona. As soon as we walked in I was immediately struck by the smell of incense. >> Most people here seem to be interested in more than the chapel. >> There's a large crowd of people in front of this chapel. >> Which is the last chapel on the left, towards the alter. >> It's a pretty typical Baroque chapel. It's got different colored marble. >> Beautiful marble. >>Paintings by Carvaggio. >> Which is really the draw. >> There's only about 20 or 30 people at any one time standing and taking pictures. >>Jockeying for position and one of the issues is the most famous of the three paintings is on the left side of the chapel and so you see it at a very fore-shortened angle. We look up at it. >> I'm struck by the very dark and seedy looking environment of the setting for the painting for the Calling of St. Matthew, but the space of the chapel is incredibly ornate. >> Ornate and brilliant. >>It's really strikingly different. >> Okay, so it's the Calling of St. Matthew. It is this moment when Christ who's seen as the tall figure on the extreme right, the younger figure with just the barest halo visible, enters in flanked by St .Peter, the chalk of light that comes down and almost divides the canvas in two diagonally. >> And leads our eye directly to that figure of St. Matthew who is pointing to himself. >> Could it be me? >> Saying to Christ are you point at me, are you addressing me? >> He seems really incredulous, doesn't he? >> He does. One of the figures seems to notice what's going on, the figure with the white feather on top of his cap. >> Nobody else seems to be paying attention. >> No one else does, no. The other figures are counting their money because of course St. Matthew was a tax collector. There's a sense of people going on about their every day business which is kind of mundane and maybe even a little bit greedy and seedy while this incredible moment of spirituality is happening - and the lights just went off. >> Something that happens. Hold on. Let's put some money in. >>Okay. Okay, there we go. The light is back on. >> This painting is, in some ways, really a complicated mix of the physical, the actual and the spiritual. >> It's interesting to me how Carvaggio has lit Christ. We've got that shadow coming right below Christ's eye. >> Illuminating the neck brilliantly, the cheek bone brilliantly. >> Right, adding to that sense of Christ's physicality. >> This is a world that worshipers live in. Not the sort of heavenly world we create in our churches, but the world outside. >> People who are making money, they've brought themselves some nice clothing. They're very worldly figures. Then you have this moment of spiritual calling. That happens a lot in Baroque Art, this merging of the real and the divine, the divine intrusion in a way into the real world. >> Let's spend a moment talking about the painting of Matthew in the center. >> This is an image that we see very often of one of the evangelists writing his gospels and being inspired by an angel, but in typical Carvaggio fashion, this doesn't really look all that divine in a way. >> (laughs) No, it's almost an editor harassing his writer. >> It does look like that, right. It's almost like the angel is pointing to his fingers. >> He's enumerating the points, yes exactly. >> Right, did you talk about this, talk about that. >> Don't forget this. >> Right and Matthew turns away and looks back. It sort of looked like, right, I'm writing, I'm writing. I've got it, but the colors are just beautiful, that oranges and gold of his clothing. >> Also what I'm really struck by is all of the open space of the canvas. It's so spare; he's given the figure so much room to move and the angel really needs it. I'm not sure Matthew needs quite as much. >> No, but it sort of helps him seem more harassed. >> It does. It does. >> I think all that empty space around him and the white of the angel's drapery sweeping down. I like his fore-shortened elbow poking out into our space too. >> It's the understanding of the movement of the body, a way in which the gesture really expresses the psychology. It's incredible. >> There's nothing idealized about it at all. >> No, it's immediate and actual, absolutely. >> It's someone you could know. >> Down to the feet. (bouncy piano music)