Artist: Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo
Medium: Oil on canvas
Size: 93 x 125 cm
Date: c. 1534
Location: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
TWENTY SAINTS IN TWENTY DAYS: PART 3 – ST MATTHEW
St. Matthew, the son of Alpheus (Mark 2:14) was a Galilean, and a tax-gatherer at Capharnaum. He collected custom duties for Herod Antipas, and, although a Jew, was despised by the Pharisees, who hated all publicans. When summoned by Jesus, Matthew followed Him and tendered Him a feast in his house, where tax-gatherers and sinners sat at table with Christ and His disciples. This drew a protest from the Pharisees whom Jesus rebuked in these consoling words: "I came not to call the just, but sinners". No further allusion is made to Matthew in the Gospels, except in the list of the Apostles. As a disciple and Apostle he therefore would have followed Christ, accompanying Him up to the time of His Passion and, and was one of the witnesses of His Resurrection and Ascension. Of Matthew's subsequent career we have only inaccurate or legendary data. St. Irenæus tells us that Matthew preached the Gospel among the Hebrews, St. Clement of Alexandria claiming that he did this for fifteen years before going into Gentile nations.
In the St Matthew and the Angel, an angel appears in the darkness to inspire the seated evangelist. Strangely distorting light and shadows play across their drapery and faces, the result of illumination from a small oil lamp placed like a footlight on the table below and in front of them. In the dark recesses at the right two men attend to a seated figure. Flames and sparks from the fireplace throw the three figures into relief, catching St Matthew's hands and face with their light, but consigning the rest of his body to near total darkness. At the far left four small figures wander along a moonlit street. Matthew's peasant's hands, rumpled clothes, contorted neck, and slightly scruffy beard all contribute to the immediacy of the scene, so convincingly real as to be unsettling.
Girolamo Savoldo, also called Girolamo da Brescia (c. 1480 – after 1548) was an Italian High Renaissance painter. Active mainly in Venice, his output was small and his career is said to have been unsuccessful, but he is now remembered as a highly attractive minor master whose work stands somewhat apart from the main Venetian tradition. He carefully studied the effects of light and reflections in a way that was most unusual for the time, and had links to the current of realism and acute psychological portrayal. The exact date of Savoldo's death is not known: in 1548 he was cited as still living in Venice, though vecchione ("Very old").