Saul the Pharisee has fallen heavily to the ground. His equipment is askew, the tangerine folds of his cape twisted as he lies possessed and fainting beneath a honeyed light. He has plummeted from the towering piebald withers of his horse, who eyes him with gentle curiosity and the soft nobility of his breed. The animal rises a considerate hoof so that his master can writhe beneath the mystic radiance and the voice that spans from horizon to horizon: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?"
The tumultuous composition is a product of Caravaggio’s instinct that the conversion was too sudden and anarchic an event to unravel into a convenient shapes and symmetries. His characters are wedged into a fireplace: dark and smoky with chiaroscuro – a drama of light and confusion on the hard, dusty road to Damascus. Spirituality roamed across the earth, just as it blossomed in the mind and so this gilded light, emerging from the shadows, is enough.
This conversion has been a favourite subject for artists throughout the centuries: it has taken place deep in rich forests, against mountains high and spiked like thorns, outside of castles and opulent cities. God has been wizened and Byzantine, wrapped in gothic banners, muscular and Baroque. But Caravaggio, who once depicted the dying Virgin with a bloated belly and feet exposed, and the Magdalene as a girl who might have torn and discarded her jewelry in a fit of petulance rather than penitence, saw only the chaotic humanity.
As Saul struggles with the painful birth of his bliss, the horse waits mildly. The light moves like a sculptor, molding a countryside of ligaments and tendons, a rounded sweep of hindquarters: one can sense the gentle and skillful fingertips. In its alliance with the darkness, a creature of wonderful grace and immensity is formed. It is calm; unafraid throughout the conversion. For it lives within Nature’s realm, and is already blessed.
Melinda Giordano is a native of Los Angeles, California. A published artist and writer, her written pieces have appeared in the Lake Effect Magazine, Scheherazade’s Bequest, Whisperings, Circa Magazine, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, After the Art and The Rabbit Hole among others. She was also a regular poetry contributor to CalamitiesPress.com with her own column, ‘I Wandered and Listened’ and was twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize.
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