(b. 1503, Firenze, d. 1572, Firenze)

St Matthew

c. 1525
Oil on wood
Cappella Capponi, Santa Felicità, Florence

Four tondos with the Evangelists still adorn the pendentives that once supported the old cupola of the Cappella Capponi in the church of Santa Felicità in Florence. Except for the painting of St John, the precise authorship of the other three portraits has posed considerable problems for scholars. As Vasari only attributes two of the tondi to Bronzino, without specifying which, scholars are still divided over which and how many of them were painted by Bronzino, the apprentice to Pontormo. Probably Bronzino was responsible for the St Matthew with an intense gaze, half-closed mouth, and tousled red hair, painted with thickly laid-on and glowing brushstrokes and enlivened by the strong light that falls on the figure with a swirling crimson cloak, set against the dark background. Probably also Bronzino's is the St Mark with its palette of yellow and red tones contrasting with the green of the mantle wrapped around the figure, which looks as if it is peering through a window, an idea drawn from the Gospel.

The bald St John with a long beard seems to share the same uneasy and sorrowful humanity lavished on the body of Christ in the Deposition by Pontormo in the same chapel, this tondo can certainly be attributed to Pontormo. St Luke is probably also a contribution by Pontormo.

The figures of the Evangelists, with their distinctly Michelangiolesque flavour, have a vigour deriving from the way their heads are twisted and pushed forward. They are wrapped in ample robes, whose bold colours stand out against the dark backgrounds. This play of strong contrasts, which exalts the delicate outlines of the coloured surfaces, is in keeping with the refined style of the entire decoration of the chapel.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 8 minutes):
Johann Sebastian Bach: St. Matthew Passion BWV 244 (excerpts)