I have written about Caravaggio’s La Conversione di S. Paolo (Chiesa di S. Maria del Popolo, Roma) before (in The Mystery of Everyday Life, and ‘Falling’), but, in the light of the recent posts on failure, I have been rethinking my previous take on this painting. I happened to see it again at the same time as I was reading these posts.
My previous argument was that this image of S. Paul’s fall represented an in-between state of falling-and-rising. As evidence of the rising element I pointed to his ecstatic state, the play of dark and light characteristic of Caravaggio, the intertwining of blindness and sight, together with the title itself: a fall that is a conversion. I wonder now if I overemphasised a rising to the light.
So, many years on, here are some further thoughts on this wonderful painting. What I noticed last time I saw it was the calm of the horse and its handler, both leaning over, in a gesture of acceptance. The horse has a calm eye, turned kindly towards Saul-Paul. There is no sense of panic here, and, while there is a tangle of horse and human limbs (which itself draws our attention to the ground), the horse is being careful to not step on Paul. In short, the horse, and its handler, seem accepting of Paul’s grounded state. Paul has fallen.
I’d be interested to know what the authors of the failure posts make of this painting.