Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Saint Matthew and the Angel

Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo (Italian, Brescian, active by 1508, died soon after 1548)
Saint Matthew and the Angel, 1534
Oil on canvas; 36 3/4 x 49 in. (93.4 x 124.5 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The website at The Metropolitan describes and comments on this painting thus:

"The painting shows Saint Matthew—inspired by an angel, the traditional symbol of the Evangelist—writing his gospel. In the background are two scenes from the saint's life. On the right, he receives hospitality from the eunuch of the queen of Ethiopia, a country in which he preached and exposed the falseness of two magicians. On the left, four small figures, one lower down on the ground, are silhouetted against a towering moonlit edifice; this enigmatic scene may represent Matthew's martyrdom, which, according to some accounts, occurred in Ethiopia.

The simple, rough lamp at the edge of the table throws the figure of Matthew into areas of intense light and dark, strongly illuminating the torso but leaving much of the head in shadow. Each of the background scenes has its own source of light—firelight and the moon—and the expressive drama of the painting is linked with this investigation of light and dark.

It is almost certain that this painting originally hung in the palazzo of Milan's zecca, or mint. Documents show that Savoldo worked for the Milanese duke Francesco II Sforza in 1534, the date given by most scholars to this work. Its subject, Matthew the Evangelist, who had originally been a tax collector, would also be appropriate, given the function of the mint."

For more see The Metropolitan website

Not really much more to be said about this beautiful painting ?

The realism of this painting is heightened by important touches: flames and sparks from the fireplace throw the three figures into relief; four small figures wander along a moonlit street; the figure of the main figure of St Matthew: hands, clothes, neck, beard, glance/look at the angel.

Savldo is first heard of or recorded in Florence. He then spent much of his artistic career in Venice. But he is considered to be part of the Brescia school due to his realism and his acute psychological portrayal.

Savoldo was interested in Flemish painting. His wife was Flemish. He was familiar with the works of Hieronymous Bosch. This may have been because he had travelled to his wife`s homeland. Or, alternatively, because there were a large number of Flemish works at that time in Venice.

Savoldo was an exponent of not adhering to a written text. He simply concentrated on a few significant elements chosen so that the story can be grasped emphatically and at a glance. This is consonant with the new narrative type emerging in Venice at that time.

Of course one has to know the story before one can grasp the meaning of the painting.

He brought the sacred down to earth: his visualisation of sacred events and persons was a characteristic of the Northern Gothic.

Note the emphasis on scripture: but contrary to the incipient Protestant advocates at the time, it is an angel which is dictating the Word to the Apostle.

His direct realism with the new vivid light effects and night scenes prefigure Caravaggio. Some have argued that his style also influenced Rembrandt`s main teacher, Pieter Lastman (1583-1633)