SAVOLDO, Giovanni Girolamo
(b. 1480, Brescia, d. 1548, Venezia)
St Matthew and the Angelc. 1534
Oil on canvas, 93 x 125 cm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Savoldo employed dramatic settings with particular attention to luminous night skies. He acquired a reputation for such work with his paintings for the Mint in Milan. Vasari called his works "nocturnes, with fires, very beautiful". In the St Matthew and the Angel, a subject appropriate for the Milanese mint insofar as the saint was a tax collector, 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, probably St Matthew in the house of the Queen of Ethopia's eunuch after he had preached and discredited some local magicians. vFlames 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.