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Arts of Europe

The MFAH collections of art created on the European continent encompass artistic styles across the time line of history, from the ancient world to the Middle Ages, and the Early Modern era to the 21st century.

French, active in Italy, 1591 - 1632
Saint Paul Writing His Epistles
c. 1618–20
Oil on canvas

39 1/8 x 52 3/8 inches

Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, Houston
Arts of Europe

The striking contrast between light and shadow, together with the simplicity of the half-length figure of Saint Paul, reveal this composition’s debt to Caravaggio, whose radical paintings were enormously influential in the early 17th century. This painting is three compositions superimposed on a single canvas. Underneath the image of Saint Paul Writing His Epistles is a Christ Crowned with Thorns. The head of Christ is now visible to the naked eye, upside down in the table. X-rays indicate that the bottom layer of paint shows an artist at his easel (possibly a self-portrait). The layering of compositions may be the result of the young artist's poverty, forcing him to reuse the canvas of apparently unsuccessful paintings.