The Cappella Contarelli, in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi, is decorated with three paintings by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610), better known, simply, as Caravaggio.
The chapel was Caravaggio's first public commission and the paintings were executed for the heirs of Cardinal Matthieu Cointrel. St Matthew was chosen as the subject, for the apostle was Cointrel's name-saint.
The paintings on the side walls depict the Calling of St Matthew and the Martyrdom of St Matthew, while that on the high altar depicts St Matthew and the Angel.
Caravaggio actually painted two versions of the altarpiece. His first painting was rejected and he was obliged to paint a second version, the work we see today. According to Bellori's Life of Caravaggio (1672), 'the priests took it down saying that the figure with its legs crossed and its feet rudely exposed to the public, had neither decorum nor the appearance of a saint.'
The rejected version was bought by Vincenzo Giustiniani. It ended up in a gallery in Berlin, where it perished during the second world war.
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