Caravaggio's seminal ambitious program in the Contarelli Chapel (San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome) representing the Calling and the Martyrdom of St. Matthew (1599-1600) invoked the threat of iconoclasm as it imagined the martyr's body as a violated relic. Counter-Reformation images and hagiographies, such as the engravings in Richard Verstegan's Thééââtre des cruautéés des hééréétiques nostre temps, traduit du latin en franççois (Anvers, 1588) and Giovanni Battista Cavalieri's Ecclesiae Anglicanae Trophaea (Rome, 1584), after paintings by Pomarancio, depicted disintegrated sacred bodies subject both to iconoclastic violence and to confusion with polluted bodies. This conflation of social categories in Caravaggio's paintings led his biographers to blame him for the endemic replacement of classical antiquity by persons off the street. The retrospective account by classical theorists displaced an earlier archaeological project that took the ruined saint's body as its artifact: the scientific archaeology of the Christian relic in the Roman catacombs in Antonio Bosio's Roma Soutteranea (Rome, Latin edition, 1634; Italian edition, 1650). The threat of the disintegration of the composition in Caravaggio's paintings thematized the paradox of the incorruptible yet violated flesh of the martyr.The painting, like the relic, recapitulated the biographical narrative of martyrdom. It also proposed patterns of reception based on contemporary rhetorical models: the descriptive enumeration of Christian humanist ekphrasis based on Prudentius's fourth century Crowns of Martyrdom and articulated in Gregory Martin's late-sixteenthcentury guide to Sacred Rome.
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