San Luigi dei Francesi

The church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome is a festival of Caravaggios

San Luigi dei Francesi
Piazza San Luigi dei Francesi 3–5 (just east of Piazza Navona)
tel. +39-06-688-271
Open daily 10am–12:30pm and 3–7pm
Closed Thursday afternoons

San Luigi dei Francesi tours
Context: Caravaggio's Mean Streets
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Carvaggio's St. Matthew cycle in San Luigi dei Francesi church, Rome
Caravaggio's St. Matthew cycle in San Luigi dei Francesi church, Rome
France's national church in Rome is—like its neighbor Sant'Agostino—an unmissable stop for Caravaggio fans, for the last chapel on the left (coin-gobbling lights) houses his famous St. Matthew cycle of paintings.

These huge canvases depict, on the left, The Calling of St. Matthew, the best of the three and amply illustrating Caravaggio's mastery of light and shadow to create mood and drama; on the right The Martyrdom of St. Matthew; and in the center, over the altar, St. Matthew and the Angel.

Interestingly, that scene with the angel inspiring St. Matthew to write his Gospel is not the one Caravaggio had originally painted for the chapel. The church objected to that first version, which showed the saint as a rough, illiterate peasant, the angel directly guiding his hand as he wrote.

A wise collector not affiliated with the church bought that version (which has, sadly, since been destroyed), but its legacy appears here—Matthew’s stool tips over the edge of the painting, as though about to tumble onto the altar.

The other bits of San Luigi dei Francesi

The church was founded in 1518 by Cardinal Giulio de' Medici (who would go on to become Pope Clement VII), with construction completed by 1589 by noted Renaissance architects Giacomo della Porta and Domenico Fontana—though Fontana's facade survives, the interior has been pretty heavily baroqued.

Before you leave, make sure you check out the Domenichino frescoes in the second chapel on the right aisle.


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This article was written by Reid Bramblett and was last updated in April 2013. All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 2008–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett