Caravaggio, The Calling of Saint Matthew, 1599-1600
Oil on canvas, 10' 7 1/2" X 11' 2"
Contarelli Chapel, Church of San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome
My friend (and poet extraordinaire) Gregory Crosby wrote this wonderful poem in honor of the Out of Darkness (Into Light) exhibit, inspired by this powerful painting by the Baroque painter Caravaggio. (You can see some of the art included in this exhibit here.)
On Caravaggio’s Calling of Saint Matthew
The world is its own shadow.
In the house where everything
is counted, nothing gained,
the afternoon’s gold slips beneath
the pane, & dusk raises something
in hearts that will not otherwise rouse.
Someone is at the door. He lifts
his arm from this quotidian shade,
this everyday dark so rich it cannot
exist anywhere but in this world.
The sun seems to frame his head,
casting his profile into deeper shadow,
but it is his hand that gleams: languid,
simple, assured. His companion’s hand
shadows it, though this man’s gray
head as yet only catches the light
of day. Two sharps in sumptuary
turn toward the strangers; two men,
young & old, at the table’s end, see
nothing to stir them just yet from
silver… & a gold coin glints from
Levi’s black cap, glimmers thanks
to a brushstroke as subtle as Christ’s
halo, as the tax collector points
to himself in soft alarm, as if to say
Who, me? But his softer eyes betray him.
He knows, as if across the chapel’s dim
effulgence he sees himself, Matthew—
sees his martyrdom, & accepts it, like a
sum that cannot be wrong. This is how
it is. This is how the light arrives: without
fanfare, like any, every morning; a light
that reveals all darkness is only absence,
only shadow; the hand of light, paused,
midair, just below the terminus of the
shadow on the wall. The light, here;
the world, here; the world, elsewhere.