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Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, (1571 – 1610)  Saint Matthew and the Angel  Oil on canvas, 1602  295 cm × 195 cm (116 in × 77 in)  Destroyed
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Title: St Matthew and the Angel

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, (1571 – 1610)
Saint Matthew and the Angel
Oil on canvas, 1602
295 cm × 195 cm (116 in × 77 in)

Saint Matthew and the Angel (1602) is a painting from the Italian master Caravaggio (1571-1610), completed for the Contarelli Chapel in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome. It was destroyed in 1945 and is now known only from black and white photographs.

The work was contracted early in 1602 to replace an altarpiece sculpture by the Flemish artist Jacob Cobaert (Cope Fiammingo). Cobaert had struggled with the sculpture for decades, unable to complete it. When his statue of Saint Matthew, sans angel, was installed at last in January 1602, "the Contarelli, ... expecting something divine, or miraculous, and finding something dry, did not want it in their chapel; in ex they commissioned a St Matthew from Michelangelo da Caravaggio." (Giovanni Baglione, a contemporary of Caravaggio).

The three-dimensionality and solid modeling of the painting suggest that Caravaggio wished to give it a sculptural appearance to compensate for Cobaert's rejected group. The Contarelli presumably turned to him because they were pleased with the two side-panels he had provided for the chapel in 1599/1600, The Calling of Saint Matthew and The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew. These had been extremely well received, but Saint Matthew and the Angel was rejected. According to Caravaggio's early biographer, the critic Giovanni Bellori (1672), "...the priests took it down, saying that the figure with its legs crossed and its feet rudely exposed to the public had neither the decorum nor the appearance of a saint." Caravaggio biographer Helen Langdon (see References section below) advances the view that the artist had deliberately stressed the lowly nature of his saint, to stress in turn God's closeness to the common man, while the priests may have had more in mind the fact that Matthew's left foot thrusts out over the altar just above the spot where the officiating priest would have elevated the Host during Mass. They may also have been disconcerted by the fact that this illiterate peasant, who seems as if he might never have written a word before this angel came down to guide his hand so firmly, has no clear connection with the polished tax-collector depicted in the Calling of Matthew on one neighbouring wall, nor the venerable high churchman in the Martyrdom on the other. These faults were rectified by the artist in his replacement canvas, The Inspiration of Saint Matthew, which now hangs in the chapel.

The rejected work was purchased by Caravaggio's patron, the wealthy banker Vincenzo Giustiniani, for his private collection, and probably cut down in size. It eventually entered the Kaiser Friedrich Museum painting gallery in Berlin, where it was destroyed in the closing stages of World War II.
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