San Luigi dei Francesi

The Contarelli Chapel, with Caravaggio's St. Michael cycle, in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome
The Contarelli Chapel, with Caravaggio's St. Michael cycle, in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi. (Photo by Reid Bramblett)

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

Cavaraggio's The Calling of St. Matthew in the Contarelli Chapel in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome
Cavaraggio's The Calling of St. Matthew.

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.

Notice how, at certain times of day, the natural light coming through the real window high on the chapel's back wall actually extends into painted light beams illuminating the paintings on the side walls—particularly in the Calling of St. Matthew on the left.

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.

The baroque interior of the church of San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome
The baroque interior. (Photo by Philippos)

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.

Tips & links

Details
ADDRESS

Piazza San Luigi dei Francesi 3–5 (just east of Piazza Navona)
tel. +39-06-688-271

OPEN

Sun-Sat 10am–12:30pm and 3–7pm
Closed Thursday afternoons

ADMISSION

Free

Roma Pass: No

TRANSPORT

Bus: 30, 70, 81, 87, 130F, 186, 492, 628, N6, N7

TOURS
How long does San Luigi dei Francesi take?

Planning your day: You can see the paintings in a quick 10–20 minutes.

Note that this church is, rather unusually, closed on Thursday afternoons.

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San Luigi dei Francesitours

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Mass

You can attend services at San Luigi dei Francesi Monday to Friday at 7:30pm, Saturday at 12:30pm; Sunday at 10:30am.

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San Luigi dei Francesi
ADDRESS

Piazza San Luigi dei Francesi 3–5 (just east of Piazza Navona)
tel. +39-06-688-271

OPEN

Sun-Sat 10am–12:30pm and 3–7pm
Closed Thursday afternoons

ADMISSION

Free

Roma Pass: No

TRANSPORT

Bus: 30, 70, 81, 87, 130F, 186, 492, 628, N6, N7

TOURS


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