If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content
Current time:0:00Total duration:5:09

Caravaggio, The Conversion of St. Paul (or The Conversion of Saul)

Video transcript

[Music] we're in the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome and we're looking at one of the most famous paintings by Caravaggio this is the conversion of salt and this is one of two paintings that Caravaggio painted here in the chapel called the Taurasi Chapel named for the Taurasi family and in fact Tiberio Taurasi is buried here in this Chapel the painting itself shows an important story chose Saul whose job it was to persecute Christians and he was on the road to Damascus when he was blinded by light and he heard a voice in that voice the voice of Christ said to him Saul Saul why do you persecute me and so I was blinded for three days that's important because Christ had been in his tomb for three days before he was resurrected and Jonah in the Old Testament remained in the fish which is often called whale for three days so there is this Old Testament tradition that this is going back to of three days in the darkness before being saved by the divine and it puts salt whose name becomes Paul in this tradition that comes out of the Old Testament so here we only see that divine supernatural force as light flooding down on Saul he's fallen off of his horse Caravaggio has stripped out everything that's not essential he's created monumental figures to fill the frame of the canvas he's pushed them forward it is placing against this deep dark background so when elements are illuminated they stand out against that background Saul face is the only face here that's illuminated well the groom doesn't even seem to notice what's going on a mess it makes it all the more personal it is only saw that here is God's voice so this darkness that this is said and no architecture no landscape this tenebrous of this dark style perhaps deriving from the art of Leonardo da Vinci but here he can so far by Caravaggio and that darkness eliminating everything else that could distract us from this incredibly powerful moment it's interesting to think about why this is happening particular moments at the turn of the 17th century the naturalism we see here is the way that we're getting the rear end of the horse the dirt on the ground the figure of the groom who's taking care of the horse looks like a man the Caravaggio probably asked a model for him that he met in Rome and that naturalism is part of this interest in legibility in clarity and art that comes out of the counter-reformation and specifically out of the Council of Trent the idea was that painting could be didactic one of the questions that Luther and other Protestants raised was whether or not it was all right to have paintings and the Council of Trent spoke to that directly and said yes paintings had important didactic value within it religious context and its really interesting to compare this to the first version of this painting which was apparently rejected by the patron where we see a narrative here although we do have a sense of a hot moment in time what we have is a condensation a distilling of this moment of personal conversion that was very popular among drug artists if we were looking at a Renaissance painting it would be a more public moment figures would exist in a more rational space but here it almost seems as if we have a privileged private view the chapel itself is a narrow space and the space of the painting is confining the figures take up side to side top to bottom with very little room to spare and carve out is definitely thinking about our view here as we stand in this Chapel and look obliquely across and up at the paintings all seems to fall out toward us in Renaissance the idea was to create a sense of harmony as a balance here all of that is upended this is Carius it seems fleeting the center of gravity is high who hasn't been low the largest and most massive part of this painting is the body of the horse and it's at the top and beneath him fall seems very vulnerable the horse's hoof is lifted up Saul's helmet has fallen off his head there is this sense of the fragility of a human being being confronted with the power of the divine I saw all is so close to us and seems so real utilize on the bare earth and his knees are up his legs are spread his arms are spread his body is actually a triangle but it's ended and whereas the Renaissance was concerned often with programmable compositions with creating a stable pyramid this is turning that pyramid upon its point there's so much for shortening here not only is the body of Sol foreshortened is sword is foreshortened the horses for a shortened and so everything is so close to us in the Renaissance we often saw a distance between the world of human beings in the realm of the divine but here Saul is present in our world [Music]