TERBRUGGHEN, Hendrick
(b. 1588, Utrecht, d. 1629, Utrecht)

The Calling of St Matthew

1621
Oil on canvas, 102 x 137 cm
Centraal Museum, Utrecht

Terbrugghen was the most important member of the Dutch Utrecht school. He spent ten years in Italy as a young man and he probably met there Caravaggio who exerted a great influence on him. His extant works were executed in Utrecht after returning from Italy. Sometimes he repeated the subjects of Caravaggio, like in the Calling of St. Matthew.

The relation to Caravaggio is unmistakable but it is not a slavish imitation. The life-size figures are half-length instead of full-length, and the large empty space in Caravaggio's version at S. Luigi, where the drama of Christ calling the tax-collector to his vocation echoes in the shadows above the figures, has been eliminated. The composition has also been reversed; Christ and his follower appear to the left as dark figures in the foreground. The main accent is on the brightly illuminated group on the right. Terbrugghen's original talent and old Netherlandish realism successfully merge here with Caravaggesque motifs and elements. The mercenary soldier pointing to the money on the table shows a profile which marks him as a descendant of types popularized by early sixteenth century Flemish artists, and the six gesticulating hands in the centre are also a survival of an older tradition.

Terbrugghen's debt to Caravaggio is seen most clearly in the manner of illumination. The light enters in a broad beam, and as usual in Terbrugghen's work, from the left. However, the quality of the light is original; it is lighter, richer, and more atmospheric than Caravaggio's, which seldom has the brightness or softness of real daylight.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 8 minutes):
Johann Sebastian Bach: St. Matthew Passion BWV 244 (excerpts)