Art Notes: The Conversion of St. Paul by Caravaggio

Authored by Dr. Lionel Gracey in Issue #30.2 of The Sower

Two thousand years ago, St Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, was born in Tarsus, in present day Turkey. To mark the bi-millennium of his birth, Pope Benedict XVI instituted a Holy Year, which began on the Vigil of Saints Peter and Paul in 2008, and will end this year on their Feast Day, the twenty ninth of June. Accordingly, our Learning through Art feature in this issue is devoted to St Paul through a study of a painting of his conversion. This was, without question, the most famous conversion in the long history of the Church, and is described three times in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 9:1-19, 22:5-16. 26:12-18).

A number of artists have interpreted this event, but probably the most striking and dramatic portrayal is that of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, made in 1601 for the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo in Caravaggio, who had become an overnight celebrity in Rome, thanks to the success of The Calling of St Matthew in 1600.

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