Bakhtinian study of Caravaggio's The Calling of St. Matthew

Document Type : Research Paper


1 Tehran University of Art

2 Allameh Tabataba'i


Mikhail Bakhtin was a great Russian philosopher and literary critique in the 20th century. He was born in Oryol, Russian Empire and grew up in an orthodox culture, which remained with him until his death in 1975. He spent his life in USSR regime which exiled him for unknown reasons, maybe with religious believes. Bakhtin, like his fellows, studied philosophy, linguistics but unlike them, he showed little interest in sociology and politics, but we can find signs of attention to these fields in his works. Perhaps he hid these approaches in his work to avoid Stalinian censorship. He learned Germany in youth and was influenced by German 19th-century philosophy, specially Neo-Kantian philosophy and figures like Cohen. We know he is also was familiar with Bergson and philosophy of life. Similarly, he was interested in Greek culture and Medieval, specially Folklore and unofficial culture. In all of these fields, he explores aesthetics issues. We should understand him in a Kantian Context. Kant argued that the Judgment can bridge between two distinct part of human mind Pure reason and Practical reason. Bakhtin agreed with him but he thought Kant made aesthetics transcendental and abstract whereas it is fully concrete. In his view, the human is an unfinalizable creature who lives as an event that yet-to-be. He spent much time to explore literary kinds and find his ideal model in Dostoevsky's novels. Bakhtin believed Russian writer could present a good vision of human – hero- which do not neglect his or her Independence, freedom; and do not consummated him or her. Bakhtin, in a large part of his career, concerned with literary works and provided several notions which are useful for interpreting literary and artistic works. In this article, using some of these notions, we investigated Calling Saint Matthew, painted by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, the Italian baroque painter. Caravaggio was an interesting figure in the history of art. He had several problems with the Catholic Church, Official culture and Painting tradition. In the last decades, academic communities rediscover him as a great master and study his work again. We argue that Caravaggio’s masterpieces are very fruitful for philosophical approaches especially Existentialist ones. Bakhtin's notions like an event, threshold moments, Unfinalizability and loophole are very useful for studying them. In this article, we employ these notions for studying one of the most famous and wonderful painting of him, The Calling St. Matthew. It was found that Bakhtin's notions for interpreting literary works are deductible from visual arts as well. Furthermore, it made clear that we can trace Bakhtinian ontological insights, especially anthropological trait ‘Unfinalizability', not only in Caravaggio's art but also in one of the most important saints of Christianity, Matthew's religious anecdote. So, from the dialogue between Bakhtins's thoughts, Caravaggio's art, and Cristian text, we deducted this Bakhtinian result that Unfinalizability is an Inherent human trait and just other people can find human's ‘loophole'. Besides, this result was deducted that Caravaggio's art can play the role of other and inter addressee into the Unfinalizability realm.


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