Saint Matthew is shown writing his gospel, inspired by the angel who is his traditional symbol. Behind are two further scenes from the saint’s life: on the right he receives hospitality at the court of the Queen of Ethiopia, while the event on the left is less clear. The various sources of light in the painting suggest that this was one of the works that Savoldo painted around 1534 for the house of the Mint Master in Milan, described by the biographer Vasari as "nocturnes, with fires."
Saint Matthew is shown seated in a dark interior lit by an oil lamp and assisted by an angel in his writing of the gospel. The diminutive scenes in the background, whose subjects have been debated, relate to his life as presented in the Golden Legend. That on the right probably represents the elderly saint receiving hospitality in the house of the eunuch of the Queen of Ethiopia, where he preached and exposed the trickery of two magicians (Wehle 1940). At the left four small figures (one down close to the ground) are silhouetted against a tower seen in moonlight. These may be the Ethiopians as they are healed of the sorcery of the magicians, or the tower may symbolically represent one of Matthew’s teachings, when he explains how, just "as those who sought from pride to build a tower reaching to Heaven had been stayed therefrom by the confusion of tongues, so by the knowledge of tongues the apostles might build a tower, not of stones, but of virtues" (Golden Legend, 1941 ed., p. 562; see Christiansen 1985). Finally, it is possible that a third scene from Matthew’s life in North Africa is represented. After the magicians were unable to bring the dead son of the king of Ethiopia to life, Matthew did so, and in response the king and his people built a great church (Bayer 2004).
Savoldo was known by contemporaries for his interest in internally lit scenes and nocturnes, and in this painting the qualities of the light as it falls from the left on the principal figures and variously lights the scenes behind are critical to the work’s poetic quality. As Roberto Longhi (1929) was first to point out, this painting must have been influential for Caravaggio, whose training took place in Milan some fifty years later.
During a trip to Milan in 1566 the painter and biographer Giorgio Vasari (1568) saw a significant group of paintings hung in the "case della Zecca," or "houses of the Mint." Four of these were by the Brescian artist Savoldo, and Vasari described them as being "nocturnes and fires, very beautiful." It is generally agreed that the Saint Matthew was one of the four, its subject—the evangelist who had originally been a tax collector—eminently suitable for that space (the others cannot be identified). It is also usually held that Savoldo’s patron was Duke Francesco II Sforza (1495–1535), for whom the artist was working in 1534 and who would have naturally commissioned the furnishings of his city’s Mint. It is, however, more likely that the patron was Bernardo Scaccabarozzi, the Master of the Mint from 1530 until the year before his death in 1562, following the long tenure of his father, Luigi Scaccabarozzi—between them they occupied this critical position for almost three quarters of a century. They carried out their duties from a house and working spaces adjacent to the Mint itself; the whole complex was located at the corners of the via Zecchia Vecchia and via del Bollo, and close by the parish church of San Mattia alla Moneta. Vasari might have had entrée to this collection through one of his contacts, the sculptor Leone Leoni, who was also active at the Mint (for the research on the patron see Sacchi 2005).
X-radiography has revealed the fully worked up figure of a woman to the right of the canvas (see Additional Images, fig. 1; see Bayer 2003 and 2004). She is shown in a devotional stance and relates in scale to the saint. Savoldo painted this figure out, replacing it with the scene before the fireplace. It is possible that he was re-using a canvas on which he had already begun another composition, but more likely that the kneeling figure is a donor who was subsequently removed for reasons that are unclear. This woman was then probably a member of the Scaccabarozzi family, perhaps Bernardo’s wife Maddalena Gallarati, who continued to live in the "case della Zecca" until her death at the age of seventy in 1570; she would have been in her mid-30s at the time that Savoldo painted her.
?Mint, Milan (until at least 1568); [Luigi Grassi, Florence, by 1911–12; sold to MMA]
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. "Masterpieces of Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 16–November 1, 1970, unnumbered cat. (p. 19).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Painter's Light," October 5–November 10, 1971, no. 6.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Age of Caravaggio," February 5–April 14, 1985, no. 13.
Naples. Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte. "Caravaggio e il suo tempo," May 14–June 30, 1985, no. 13.
Brescia. Monastero di Santa Giulia. "Giovanni Gerolamo Savoldo tra Foppa, Giorgione e Caravaggio," March 3–May 31, 1990, no. I.25.
Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt. "Giovanni Gerolamo Savoldo und die Renaissance zwischen Lombardei und Venetien: Von Foppa und Giorgione bis Caravaggio," June 12–August 26, 1990, no. I.23.
Milan. Palazzo Reale. "Il genio e le passioni, Leonardo e il Cenacolo: Precedenti, innovazioni, riflessi di un capolavoro," March 21–June 17, 2001, no. 118.
Cremona. Museo Civico Ala Ponzone. "Pittori della realtà: le ragioni di una rivoluzione da Foppa e Leonardo a Caravaggio e Ceruti," February 14–May 2, 2004, unnumbered cat. (p. 157).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Painters of Reality: The Legacy of Leonardo and Caravaggio in Lombardy," May 27–August 15, 2004, no. 46.
Giorgio Vasari. Le vite de' più eccellenti pittori, scultori, ed architettori. Ed. Gaetano Milanesi. 1906 ed. Florence, 1568, vol. 6, p. 507, mentions "quattro quadri di notte e di fuochi, molto belli" by Savoldo in the Mint in Milan, possibly including this picture.
[Detlev von] Hadeln. Letter to Wilhelm R. Valentiner. October 15, 1911, attributes it to Savoldo; states that he has just seen it at Grassi's in Florence.
B[ryson]. B[urroughs]. "Saint Matthew and the Angel, by Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 6 (May 1912), pp. 101–2.
Michele Biancale. "Giovanni Battista Moroni e i pittori bresciani." L'arte 17 (1914), pp. 298–99, ill., as whereabouts unknown; notes that Savoldo's use of light anticipates Caravaggio.
Roberto Longhi. "Cose bresciane del Cinquecento." L'arte 20 (1917), p. 113, calls it a late work and dates it 1533 or later.
Giorgio Nicodemi. Gerolamo Romanino. Brescia, 1925, pp. 42, 100, ill. p. 41, dates it before 1521, stating that it influenced Romanino's Saint Matthew (San Giovanni Evangelista, Brescia).
Sergio Ortolani. "Di Gian Girolamo Savoldo." L'arte 28 (1925), p. 173.
Detlev von Hadeln. "Notes on Savoldo." Art in America 13 (February 1925), pp. 77–78, fig. 2.
Roberto Longhi. "Di un libro sul Romanino." L'arte 29 (1926), p. 145, rejects the date of before 1521 proposed by Nicodemi [see Ref. 1925].
Roberto Longhi. "Due dipinti inediti di Giovan Gerolamo Savoldo." Vita artistica 2 (April 1927), p. 75 n.
A[dolfo]. Venturi. Storia dell'arte italiana. Vol. 9, part 3, La pittura del Cinquecento. Milan, 1928, pp. 783–85, fig. 533, calls it a late work.
L[ili]. Fröhlich-Bum. "Studien zu Handzeichnungen der italienischen renaissance." Jahrbuch der kunsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien, n.s., 2 (1928), pp. 192–93, relates it to Savoldo's altarpiece in Santa Maria in Organo, Verona, of 1533.
Nikolaus Pevsner. "Die Lehrjahre des Caravaggio." Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst 62 (1928–29), p. 283, ill. p. 287.
Roberto Longhi. "Quesiti caravaggeschi—II: i precedenti." Pinacotheca 1 (March–June 1929), pp. 259, 288.
Lionello Venturi. Pitture italiane in America. Milan, 1931, unpaginated, pl. CCCXCII.
Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Oxford, 1932, p. 514.
Lionello Venturi. Italian Paintings in America. Vol. 3, Sixteenth to Eighteenth Century. New York, 1933, unpaginated, pl. 532.
Hans Tietze. Meisterwerke europäischer Malerei in Amerika. Vienna, 1935, pp. 330–31, pl. 97 [English ed., "Masterpieces of European Painting in America," New York, 1939, p. 315, pl. 97], as a late work.
W[ilhelm]. Suida inAllgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. Ed. Hans Vollmer. Vol. 29, Leipzig, 1935, p. 511.
Bernhard Berenson. Pitture italiane del rinascimento. Milan, 1936, p. 442.
Ad[olfo]. V[enturi]. inEnciclopedia italiana di scienze, lettere ed arti. Vol. 30, Rome, 1936, p. 970.
Carlo Gamba. "Gian Girolamo Savoldo." Emporium 89 (June 1939), p. 385, calls it close to Savoldo's Tobias and the Angel (Galleria Borghese, Rome) in the style of the drapery and the Leonardesque type of the angel.
Lino Cappuccio. Girolamo Savoldo: La vita e l'opera. Milan, 1939, unpaginated, as a late work.
Harry B. Wehle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine Paintings. New York, 1940, pp. 158–59, ill., identifies the small scene in the right background as Matthew with the eunuch of the queen of Ethiopia, and that at the left as Matthew's martyrdom.
Giusta Nicco Fasola. "Lineamenti del Savoldo." L'arte, n.s., 11 (April 1940), pp. 72, 75, 77, fig. 12, discusses its relationship to Romanino's Saint Matthew (San Giovanni Evangelista, Brescia), without reaching a firm conclusion as to its date.
Rodolfo Pallucchini. La pittura veneziana del Cinquecento. Novara, 1944, vol. 1, pp. XLI–XLII, dates it after 1533.
Creighton E. Gilbert. "Milan and Savoldo." Art Bulletin 27 (June 1945), p. 124 n. 4, pp. 127–28, 130–32, 135–37, fig. 7, dates it to the mid-1530s, notes the influence of Leonardo, and tentatively connects it with one of the nocturnes recorded by Vasari [see Ref. 1568] in the Mint in Milan.
Umberto Capelli. "Appunti sul Savoldo." Studia ghisleriana, 2nd ser., 1 (1950), p. 409, dates it after 1528, to the same period as the Saint Jerome (National Gallery, London).
Gilbert Creighton [sic]. "Per i Savoldo visti dal Vasari." Studi vasariani. Florence, 1952, pp. 147–52, associates it with the Tobias and the Angel (Galleria Borghese, Rome), which is the same size and has the same provenance, as possibly from the Milan Mint [see Notes]; observes that Matthew is the patron saint of public finance.
Walter Friedlaender. Caravaggio Studies. Princeton, 1955, pp. 17, 40, 42, 96, fig. 29, identifies it with one of the four paintings mentioned by Vasari [see Ref. 1568] in the Milan Mint, where he believes Caravaggio would have seen it; calls Romanino's Saint Matthew of 1521 (San Giovanni Evangelista, Brescia) probably the source for the MMA painting; notes the influence of the MMA work on the figure of Saint Matthew in Antonio Campi's Death of the Virgin (San Marco, Milan).
Paola Della Pergola. Galleria Borghese: I dipinti. Vol. 1, Rome, 1955, p. 128, under no. 231, calls it close to the Borghese Tobias, which she dates about 1540.
Creighton Gilbert. "The Works of Girolamo Savoldo." PhD diss., New York University, 1955, vol. 1, pp. 35, 65, 113–18, 125, 127, 129–36, 143, 147, 151–53, 179–80, 185, no. 26, fig. 44; vol. 2, pp. 219, 224, 229, 249, 252, 267, 323, 370–82, 384, 386, 389, 400–401, 403–4, 436–43, 445–46, dates it about 1531–32; identifies it and the Borghese Tobias as two of the works recorded in the Milan Mint [see Ref. Vasari 1568], calling them pendants, and suggesting that the MMA picture, like the Borghese work, may come from the palazzo Alfani, Perugia; discusses the influence of Romanino, Lotto, Leonardo, Titian, and Flemish nativities.
René Jullian. "'Lombardisme' et 'vénétianisme' chez Caravage." Arte lombarda 2 (1956), p. 121, mentions it in connection with Caravaggio's first Saint Matthew (formerly Kaiser Friedrich Museum, Berlin; destroyed).
Creighton Gilbert. "Alvise e compagni." Scritti di storia dell'arte in onore di Lionello Venturi. Vol. 1, Rome, 1956, pp. 307–8.
Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Venetian School. London, 1957, vol. 1, p. 158; vol. 2, pl. 819.
Giuseppe De Logu. Pittura veneziana dal XIV al XVIII secolo. Bergamo, 1958, pp. 264–65.
Ágnes Czobor. Caravaggio. Budapest, 1960, p. 11, fig. 1.
Luigi Coletti. "Giunte a G. Gerolamo Savoldo." Acropoli 1 (1960–61), p. 49.
René Jullian. Caravage. Lyons, 1961, p. 32.
Roberto Longhi. Opere complete di Roberto Longhi. Vol. 1, part 1, Scritti giovanili, 1912–1922. Florence, 1961, p. 341 [repr. of Ref. Longhi 1917].
Antonio Boschetto. Giovan Gerolamo Savoldo. Milan, 1963, text under pls. 35, 72, p. 239, pls. 72, 73 (detail), rejects the notion of Leonardo's influence.
Giorgio Vigni inEncyclopedia of World Art. Vol. 8, New York, 1963, col. 383.
Rossana Bossaglia inStoria di Brescia. Vol. 2, La dominazione veneta (1426–1575). [Brescia], 1963, pp. 1018, 1021 n. 1, p. 1032, ill. opp. p. 1032 (color), questions its identification with one of the works recorded in the Milan Mint [see Ref. Vasari 1568].
Mario Salmi inEncyclopedia of World Art. Vol. 12, New York, 1966, col. 94, mentions it as an example of Giorgione's influence.
Alessandro Ballarin. Savoldo. Milan, 1966, unpaginated, colorpl. V [reprinted in Ballarin 2006, vol. 1, p. 21], finds Gilbert's (1955) hypothesis that it is a pendant to the Borghese Tobias intriguing; comments on the influence of Lotto.
Roberto Longhi. Opere complete di Roberto Longhi. Vol. 2, part 1, Saggi e ricerche: 1925–1928. Florence, 1967, pp. 101, 155 n. [repr. of Refs. Longhi 1926 and 1927].
Roberto Longhi. Opere complete di Roberto Longhi. Vol. 4, "Me pinxit" e quesiti caravaggeschi, 1928–1934. Florence, 1968, pp. 98, 119, 126, colorpl. 167 [repr. of Ref. Longhi 1929].
Pietro Zampetti. A Dictionary of Venetian Painters. Vol. 2, 16th Century. Leigh-on-Sea, 1970, p. 113.
S. J. Freedberg. Painting in Italy: 1500 to 1600. Harmondsworth, England, 1971, pp. 227, 496 n. 30, dates it about 1535; discusses the light, noting the influence of Romanino.
Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 184, 432, 606.
Michael A. Jacobsen. "Savoldo and Northern Art." Art Bulletin 56 (December 1974), p. 530 n. 2.
M. Lechner inLexikon der christlichen Ikonographie. Ed. Wolfgang Braunfels. Vol. 7, Rome, 1974, col. 593.
Gaetano Panazza. "I precedenti bresciani del Caravaggio." Novità sul Caravaggio: Saggi e contributi. Milan, 1975, pl. 78.
Creighton Gilbert inThe Genius of Venice, 1500–1600. Exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts. London, 1983, p. 204, under no. 86, reaffirms its connection with the Borghese Tobias, and the identification of these works with two of those recorded in the Milan Mint [see Ref. Vasari 1568].
Keith Christiansen inThe Age of Caravaggio. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1985, pp. 84–85, no. 13, ill. [Italian ed., "Caravaggio e il suo tempo," Naples, 1985], tentatively accepts the identification of the small scene at the right as depicting Matthew with the eunuch of the queen of Ethiopia [see Ref. Wehle 1940], but rejects the identification of the scene at the left as depicting the martyrdom of Matthew, suggesting instead that it might represent Matthew healing the citizens of Nadaber or that the tower might refer to a passage in "The Golden Legend"; rejects the connection with the Borghese Tobias, but not the possibility that the MMA painting may be one of those recorded in the Milan Mint [see Ref. Vasari 1568]; notes the influence of Romanino's Saint Matthew, and the influence in turn of Savoldo's picture on Caravaggio, especially his Stigmatization of Saint Francis (Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford).
Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, North Italian School. New York, 1986, pp. 58–59, pl. 62, date it 1530 or slightly later; believe there is not enough evidence to identify it with one of the works recorded at the Milan Mint.
[Francesco Frangi] inPittura del Cinquecento a Brescia. Milan, 1986, pp. 171, 181, 191–92, ill. p. 123, concurs with a date in the mid-1530s; tentatively accepts its identification with one of the works recorded in the Milan Mint, but rejects the idea of it as a pendant to the Borghese Tobias.
Creighton E. Gilbert. The Works of Girolamo Savoldo: The 1955 Dissertation, with a Review of Research, 1955–1985. PhD diss., New York University. New York, 1986, pp. 35, 65, 179–80, 185, 219, 224, 229, 249, 252, 267, 323, 370–82, 384, 386, 389, 400–401, 403–4, 436–43, 445–46, 519, 524–25, 548–53, 556, 565, no. 26, fig. 44, dates it "by 1535", based on the death date of Francesco II Sforza, the likely patron of the paintings for the Milan Mint; still argues that it was the pendant to the Borghese Tobias, but withdraws his earlier hypothesis that the two pictures remained together until 1910.
Alessandro Ballarin. La cappella del Sacramento in San Giovanni Evangelista a Brescia. June 22, 1988 [published in Ballarin 2006, vol. 1, pp. 167–68].
Pier Virgilio Begni Redona inGiovanni Gerolamo Savoldo tra Foppa, Giorgione e Caravaggio. Exh. cat., Monastero di Santa Giulia, Brescia. Milan, 1990, pp. 160, 162, no. I.25, ill. p. 163 (color) [German ed., "Giovanni Gerolamo Savoldo und die Renaissance zwischen Lombardei und Venetien: Von Foppa and Giorgione bis Caravaggio," Milan, 1990, pp. 164, 166, no. I.23, ill. p. 167 (color)].
Alessandro Ballarin. "Profilo del Savoldo." Savoldo e la cultura figurativa del suo tempo tra Veneto e Lombardia. May 25–27, 1990 [published in Ballarin 2006, vol. 1, pp. 206–7].
Francesco Frangi. Savoldo: Catalogo completo dei dipinti. Florence, 1992, pp. 18–19, 48, 80, 82–83, 116, 118, no. 23, ill. (color), finds the hypothesis that it might be one of the works from the Milan Mint supported by the date in the early 1530s and the evident influence of Leonardo; notes the pre-Caravaggesque quality of the light.
Francesco Frangi inLe siècle de Titien: L'âge d'or de la peinture à Venise. Exh. cat., Grand Palais. Paris, 1993, p. 450, under no. 72, rejects a connection with the Borghese Tobias, but finds it plausible that the MMA painting could be one of the works from the Milan Mint, noting the recent discovery of a document of 1534 confirming Savoldo's relations with Francesco II Sforza of Milan.
Creighton E. Gilbert inThe Dictionary of Art. Ed. Jane Turner. Vol. 27, New York, 1996, p. 891, fig. 2 [repr. in "Encyclopedia of Italian Renaissance & Mannerist Art," ed. Jane Turner, 2 vols., Grove, New York, vol. 2, p. 1490, fig. 2].
David Alan Brown inIl genio e le passioni, Leonardo e il Cenacolo: Precedenti, innovazioni, riflessi di un capolavoro. Exh. cat., Palazzo Reale. Milan, 2001, pp. 298, 300, no. 118, ill. p. 301 (color), dates it about 1530–35; calls it almost certainly one of the works from the Milan Mint; discusses the influence of Leonardo.
Andrea Bayer. "North of the Apennines: Sixteenth-Century Italian Painting in Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 60 (Spring 2003), pp. 32–34, figs. 23 (color), 24 (x-radiograph), dates it 1534; suggests that the small scene at left might depict Matthew bringing the son of the king of Ethiopia back to life; states that it is almost certainly one of the works recorded in the Milan Mint; publishes an x-radiograph revealing the figure of a woman at the right, completely painted out by the artist, noting that she was either part of an earlier, unrelated painting, or originally part of the present work, but painted over when Savoldo changed his mind.
Andrea Bayer inPainters of Reality: The Legacy of Leonardo and Caravaggio in Lombardy. Ed. Andrea Bayer. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2004, pp. 137–39, no. 46, ill. (color) [Italian ed., "Pittori della realtà: le ragioni di una rivoluzione da Foppa e Leonardo a Caravaggio e Ceruti," (Milan), 2004, p. 157, ill. pp. 14–15 (color detail), 156–57 (color)].
Mina Gregori inPainters of Reality: The Legacy of Leonardo and Caravaggio in Lombardy. Ed. Andrea Bayer. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2004, p. 36 [Italian ed., "Pittori della realtà: le ragioni di una rivoluzione da Foppa e Leonardo a Caravaggio e Ceruti," (Milan), 2004, p. 39].
Rossana Sacchi. Il disegno incompiuto: la politica artistica di Francesco II Sforza e di Massimiliano Stampa. Milan, 2005, vol. 1, pp. 83, 85, 230; vol. 2, fig. 17.
Sandrina Bandera. "Giulio e Antonio Campi in San Paolo." Paragone 57 (September 2006), pp. 45, 55, pl. 24, identifies it as one of the pictures recorded in the Milan Mint [see Ref. Vasari 1568]; sees it as an important influence on Caravaggio and Antonio Campi.
Mauro Lucco inBellini, Giorgione, Titian and the Renaissance of Venetian Painting. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art. Washington, 2006, p. 140, under no. 24.
Timothy Verdon inL'arte cristiana in italia. Vol. 2, Rinascimento. Cinisello Balsamo (Milan), 2006, p. 302, fig. 322 (color), dates it about 1530.
Alessandro Ballarin. La "Salomè" del Romanino ed altri studî sulla pittura bresciana del Cinquecento. Ed. Barbara Maria Savy. Cittadella, 2006, vol. 1, pp. 21, 167–68, 206–7; vol. 2, colorpl. CXVIII, fig. 207.
Arturo Galansino inTitien, Tintoret, Véronèse . . . Rivalités à Venise. Ed. Vincent Delieuvin et al. Exh. cat., Musée du Louvre. Paris, 2009, pp. 352, 433 n. 33, fig. 149 (color), dates it to the early 1530s and notes that the poses of the two figures show that the artist was familiar with Leonardo's "Last Supper".
Andrea Bayer. "Collecting North Italian Paintings at The Metropolitan Museum of Art." A Market for Merchant Princes: Collecting Italian Renaissance Paintings in America. Ed. Inge Reist. University Park, Pa., 2015, pp. 88–89, fig. 37 (color).
Norbert Schneider. Von Bosch zu Bruegel: Niederländische Malerei im Zeitalter von Humanismus und Reformation. Berlin, 2015, pp. 247, 320, fig. 184 (color).
Sebastian Schütze. Caravaggio: The Complete Works. Cologne, 2015, p. 26.