Upon completing his first commissions for the Church — the Martyrdom of Saint Matthew and Calling of Saint Matthew (both 1600) — Caravaggio became one of the most famous and visionary painters in Rome, consolidating a renowned (but notorious) career.
Like many of the dramatic scenes Caravaggio painted, he was a known brawler and rogue who fled Rome for Naples in 1606 after murdering a rival (Ranuccio Tomassoni).
Saint Matthew and the Angel (1602) was painted at the height of Caravaggio's career in Rome, off of the renown received from his Contrarelli Chapel commission as a further work for that Church.
Like those previous paintings, Saint Matthew and the Angel displayed a realist style in its use of life models rather than being based on idealised and imagined subjects. He painted both Matthew and the angel in true to life poses with a dramatic contrast between the light in the foreground and darkness enveloping the background.
Although the work is interesting for its humanising of Matthew, his patrons demanded a more idealised interpretation; they asked Caravaggio to re-paint his work so as to depict Matthew as serious and glorious rather than as bumbling or peasant like. This new work can be found in The Inspiration of Saint Matthew (1602) where Matthew is laced in glorious light in a serious, strong and commanding pose.
Saint Matthew and the Angel is an interesting work in Caravaggio's canon because it is known only by its reproductions, having been destroyed by a fire in Berlin at the end of the Second World War (1945).
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571 - 1610) was a "master" Italian painter renowned for his realism and use of chiaroscuro as a stylistic element. Born in Milan in 1571, Caravaggio soon moved to the town of Caravaggio in Italy (his namesake) to escape a plague epidemic. Caravaggio began painting at an early age and undertook a four-year apprenticeship with the Milanese painter Simone Peterzano at the age of thirteen (1584). Although Caravaggio's earliest areas of residence are mostly unknown, he traveled through Venice, Milan and eventually Rome after quarrelling with local Milanese police.
It was in Rome that Caravaggio entered factory work for other artists, touching up paintings for Giuseppe Cesari among others. Given the widespread demand for art in the Catholic Church at the time, Caravaggio frequently depicted biblical subjects for his clients. Caravaggio developed and innovated with a naturalist style combined with dramatic stylistic flourishes in the contrasted depiction of light and shadow (known as chiaroscuro or tenebrism). Upon becoming a more established painter, Caravaggio's exciting new painting style added theatricality to both everyday and biblical scenes.