The Calling of St. Rocky

by Nandia Foteini Vlachou



In a scene from Rocky (1976), Sylvester Stallone sits in his apartment in a pose that deliberately echoes the poster that hangs from the wall behind him. According to imdb trivia, “one of the pictures tacked to the wall in Rocky’s apartment is a reproduction of Caravaggio’s The Calling of St. Matthew. The painting depicts Christ calling Matthew from his life of obscurity literally into miraculous light. As Apollo Creed selects Rocky in much the same way, the picture carries obvious thematic resonance.” This observation insightfully sums up the meaning of the scene. The conspicuous poster, with Stallone literally framing it with his body, is there for a reason and not as a simple film prop. A closer look, moreover, reveals that the poster is only a partial reproduction of the painting, albeit with one significant difference: the aging, bearded figure that is usually identified as St. Matthew in Caravaggio’s painting has been replaced by a younger, beardless figure whose droopy eyes and mane bear a remarkable resemblance to Stallone himself. Setting aside the debate on exactly who is St. Matthew in The Calling of St. Matthew (some specialists argue that it is the youthful figure on the left and I tend to agree), this is a fascinating case of not simply “quoting” a painting, but actively inscribing one’s self in it, mapping one’s face and body on a pre-existing work of art in the process of defining identity. Reception, at its most imaginative.


Caravaggio, The Calling of St. Matthew, 1599–1600, oil on canvas, 322 × 340 cm, San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome


[in anticipation of the 88th Academy Awards ceremony]