The Conversion of Saint Paul, painted by Caravaggio

Today we look at the conversion of Paul as painted by another Michelangelo, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. His first try at it was not very successful. Trying to imitate the tumult of Buonarroti's fresco which we saw the other day, Caravaggio only arrived at confusion, and the picture was rejected by the patron.

Returning to meditate on the scriptures, Caravaggio found what his talent could express: the interior drama of spiritual illumination:

ACTS Chapter 9: And Saul, as yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest,
2 And asked of him letters to Damascus, to the synagogues: that if he found any men and women of this way, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
3 And as he went on his journey, it came to pass that he drew nigh to Damascus; and suddenly a light from heaven shined round about him.
4 And falling on the ground, he heard a voice saying to him: Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?
5 Who said: Who art thou, Lord? And he: I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. It is hard for thee to kick against the goad.
6 And he trembling and astonished, said: Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?
7 And the Lord said to him: Arise, and go into the city, and there it shall be told thee what thou must do. Now the men who went in company with him, stood amazed, hearing indeed a voice, but seeing no man.
8 And Saul arose from the ground; and when his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. But they leading him by the hands, brought him to Damascus.

Now all the drama is internal, and is starkly expressed by the light of revelation banishing the darkness of ignorance. Art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon has pointed out how the red cloak surrounding the sword alludes to the Christians' blood Paul had intended to spill; and how Paul's gesture, like that of a baby lying helpless, and also like that of a stricken man with outstretched arms, shows his new calling to imitate Christ's life from the manger to the cross.