Workshop of Jan Sanders van Hemessen (Netherlandish, active by ca. 1524, died ca. 1564)
Oil on wood; 43 7/8 x 59 1/2 in. (111.4 x 151.1 cm)
Purchase, 1871 (71.155)
This painting illustrates the moment Matthew turned from being the tax collector of Capernaum to follow Christ as an apostle, eventually becoming author of the first gospel. In the upper right of the composition, Christ is shown beckoning to Matthew in a style of gesture reminiscent of Italian art. Represented at the left in the immediate foreground is Matthew, whose arms and head are dramatically foreshortened as he turns toward Christ, responding to his call. Two of Matthew's colleagues continue with their work, engrossed in the tasks of counting money and recording payments, oblivious to the momentous occurrence in their midst. Jan van Hemessen, who became dean of the Antwerp Guild of Saint Luke in 1548, executed several versions of this scene. They all feature his typically muscular and palpably three-dimensional figures, a densely packed foreground of abruptly cropped forms, and vigorous, even flamboyant gestureselements that became the hallmarks of the artist's Mannerist style. Active during the heart of the Reformation era, van Hemessen was among the earliest (and most effective) Netherlandish artists to exploit the genre character of biblical subjectsoften for moralizing effect. The subject of the Calling of Matthew, for example, was used to explore the vice of greed and money's power to distract us from righteousness. This version, produced by van Hemessen's workshop, is a near copy of a painting from the artist's hand of about 1540, now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Viennaonly the background is different. The figure of Matthew in this version is a concealed portrait of Emperor Charles V.