Saint Matthew

Model and cast by Antonio Susini Italian
Possibly after a design by Giambologna Netherlandish

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 536

The three bronzes belong to a highly spirited and refined set of eleven statuettes—The Risen Christ, four evangelists, and six angels—that adorned a tabernacle on the high altar of the Church of San Lorenzo at the Carthusian monastery (Certosa) of Galluzzo, near Florence. As rare documented examples of the prodigious production of small bronzes in Giambologna’s workshop, they are a touchstone within the sculptor’s oeuvre. Three entries in an account book of the church, dated April–July 1596, record payment of 215 ducati (1,505 scudi) for the bronze figures and name both Giambologna and Antonio Susini, then a leading member of his workshop.[1] Writing in the 1680s, Filippo Baldinucci discussed what could only be this commission in his Life of Susini, although he dated it five years later and did not associate it with the Certosa, nor did he mention The Risen Christ as part of the group.[2] In 1792, Domenico Moreni extolled the ciborium and bronze statuettes in situ,[3] but by the mid-nineteenth century the bronzes are listed among Giambologna’s lost works,[4] having been taken from the church at the time of the Napoleonic suppression, around 1799.[5] The group seems to have remained together into the early twentieth century, only to be sifted repeatedly through the European and American art markets, with individual statuettes scattering to public and private collections. The Met’s Christ and two evangelists comprise the largest group to remain together. Another evangelist (Luke/Mark) is in the Spencer Museum of Art in Lawrence, Kansas. One angel is in the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; two are in a private collection in New York; another is in an Italian private collection. The two remaining angels and fourth evangelist are untraced.

The altar ensemble at San Lorenzo was the capstone of a half-century of major renovation to the east end of the church. The floor was repaved in marbles in the 1560s, elaborate wood choir stalls were added beginning in the 1570s, and a complete redecoration of the apse in the 1590s included the hardstone revetment of the lower walls below a fresco cycle of the life of Saint Bruno by Bernardino Poccetti, in addition to the new high altar.[6] Though the altar was replaced in the late eighteenth century and the bronzes removed shortly thereafter, the hexagonal tabernacle remains in situ (fig. 134a).[7] The Risen Christ would have stood in the niche facing the nave, with evangelists in the four flanking niches;[8] the angels stood on round socles, still visible above the cornice, in line with the ribs of the cupola and the columns below (fig. 134b).[9]

Christ’s head is thrown back and his chest pushed out, in contrast to the evangelists’ lowered heads and raised knees, which describe concave shapes. There is a carefully calibrated play of symmetry and variety among the four evangelists. Compositional motifs tie the figures together in overlapping pairs—Matthew and Luke look to their right, while Mark and John look to their left; Matthew and Mark put weight on their left leg, while Luke and John rest on their right; Mark and Luke have closed compositions, with their arms coming across the front of their bodies, while Matthew and John are open, right arms stretching out to the side.[10] Volker Krahn observed that the angels are likewise composed as complementary pairs.[11]

Our statuettes are cast integrally with thin polygonal baseplates of irregular dimensions. Christ stands in a restrained contrapposto, with his weight on his left foot. His upraised right hand has been broken at the wrist and repaired. His drapery, tied in a knot on his chest, has a tooled fringe, while those of his companions have simpler borders and fastenings. Matthew is accompanied by a stooped angel supporting an open book on his back, John by an eagle, to each figure’s right. The button at Matthew’s chest is a decorative element typical of the workshop’s small bronzes and is also used to fasten drapery on the angels in the group.[12] The two evangelists exhibit the squared fingers and noses and blocky planes of drapery characteristic of Giambologna’s modeling. Suppler modeling of the largely nude Christ describes rounded forms of muscle and flesh. All three bronzes are chased extensively, and by the same hand. The tracer was used to strengthen lines in the depths of folds, to delineate feathers on John’s eagle and the wings of Matthew’s angel, and to indicate the pages of their books. Peening is particularly visible on the stumps at the saints’ feet, on John’s fingers, and Christ’s perizonium. Broader strokes smooth the planes of the saints’ drapery. The angels are smaller and more summarily modeled than Christ and the evangelists.[13] Their exposed physique exhibits none of the definition of, for example, the bones and muscles of Christ’s legs.

Other small bronzes were made after the Certosa evangelists, some within Susini’s workshop after he established himself independently.[14] Gilt examples of the Saint John and Saint Mark/Luke, now in the Fundación Lázaro Galdiano, Madrid, are two of the four evangelists documented leaving Susini’s workshop in 1603 and arriving in Spain as a diplomatic gift from Ferdinando de’ Medici to the countess of Lemos.[15] A set of all four evangelists in the Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum, Braunschweig, documented earliest in a 1753 inventory, was probably made in the first quarter of the seventeenth century, and is close in detail and finish to the Madrid bronzes.[16] The evangelists were adapted for use on the doors of Pisa Cathedral in 1599 and for the church of Santissima Concezione di Maria Vergine in Livorno.[17] Four evangelists from Schloss Babelsberg, Potsdam, are probably much later interpretations of the models.[18]

Formal precedents for the Certosa figures in Giambologna’s oeuvre and contemporaneous and subsequent resonances within his workshop’s production describe a culture of reuse and adaptation of models that must have been as desirable to patrons as it was efficacious for the workshop. This practice constituted an enduring stylistic identity and enabled the large output that by the mid-1590s had long since grown beyond the abilities of an individual, but nonetheless retained and enhanced his name. The Risen Christ derives from the lifesized marble figure in Giambologna’s first major religious commission, the great Altar of Liberty in San Martino, Lucca, almost twenty years earlier. The Saint Peter on that altar provided a schema of ponderation and torsion often used in later statues of saints, including the present evangelists.[19] The large bronze angel made in the 1580s, the crowning element for the Salviati Chapel in San Marco, Florence, provided a model for one of the Certosa tabernacle angels and inspired the others in dress and proportions.[20]

In the 1590s, Giambologna used the same model for four sculptures representing at least three of the evangelists: the marble Saint Matthew carved by Pietro Francavilla for Orvieto Cathedral (1595–99),[21] the monumental bronze Saint Luke for Orsanmichele (1597–1602),[22] the Saint Mark on the doors of Pisa Cathedral (1599), and the untraced small bronze evangelist for the Certosa group, which consequently has equal claim to the identity of Saint Luke and Saint Mark. This ambiguity exemplifies Giambologna’s indifference to fixed subjects in his sculpture, famously demonstrated in a letter to Ottavio Farnese describing various possible identities of a two-figure abduction group (see cat. 135).[23] That composition would later evolve into perhaps his most famous sculpture, the marble Abduction of a Sabine, which in Raffaello Borghini’s account was also unlabeled, thus open to interpretation, until shortly before its unveiling.[24]

As with many small bronzes associated with Giambologna, attribution of the Certosa group has been controversial. It is an issue of special significance here, given the existence of a documented payment. Since Herbert Keutner’s reconstruction of the group in 1955, scholars have argued for many variants and combinations of authorship.[25] However, the nature of bronze production in general—and Giambologna’s workshop practice in particular—renders narrow questions of autography moot. It is important to recognize the division between ideation and execution that was often standard workshop practice, while acknowledging the possibility of skilled individuals’ movement between the roles of designer and fabricator. In addition to praising his virtuosity in many aspects of his art, the early sources impart a sense of Giambologna as a master organizer, someone who brought together specialists to create artistic ensembles that would bear—and be worthy of—his name. A drawing of the Salviati Chapel, completed by 1588, well before the Certosa commission, identifies Giambologna as the mastermind of the entire decorative scheme.[26]

A related example deserves mention. In spite of a preponderance of documentation suggesting that Giambologna was solely responsible for the Orvieto Saint Matthew, Keutner showed that it was in fact made by a collaborator—the expert marble carver Pietro Francavilla—after the former’s model.[27] If we relied solely on a literal reading of the contract, payments, and records surrounding the commission, it would be impossible to conclude that the Saint Matthew was anything but a work by the master himself, in idea and execution. However, an inscription on the statue (“Pietro Francavilla made [this], a work by Giambologna”)[28]—not to mention the stylistic changes that Francavilla made in the marble—make it clear that the sculpture is best described, as Keutner says, as a joint effort by the artists.[29]

The Certosa bronzes are almost certainly the same type of collaborative work. The distance that Giambologna kept from the cold-working of bronzes, and his relatively low valuation of small bronzes in general, emerge clearly in his own writings.[30] Particularly in this later phase of his career, after he moved his workshop to the Borgo Pinti, Giambologna’s focus was on large public commissions. He must have delegated work on small bronzes to assistants and collaborators as a matter of course. The payment record and early sources suggest that Susini played a significant role in the Certosa commission, which is consistent with what we know of Giambologna’s artistic philosophy and his workshop structure.

At the time of this commission, Susini was one of Giambologna’s most important collaborators, and a few years later, around 1600, he would set up a shop of his own, where he continued to produce small bronzes after his former master’s models, as well as his own.[31] For rhetorical effect, Baldinucci elides this event with the Certosa commission, stating that Susini started his own atelier as a result of being delegated the large project. Baldinucci says that in addition to casting and finishing all the figures, Susini modeled the angels and evangelists, except for the one resembling the Orsanmichele Saint Luke, the model for which Giambologna provided.[32] The combination of starting his own workshop, modeling figures (not just casting them), and having his former master covet a bronze that he made sets Susini on his own footing early on in Baldinucci’s account, and provides the author with a secure identity from which to write the Vita, but it surely simplifies Susini’s development and the division of labor within the workshop.

Giambologna almost certainly delegated the casting and chasing to Susini, just as he may have contracted a long-time colleague and friend, Jacopo Riccardi, for the pietre dure architecture of the tabernacle.[33] With models most likely supplied by Giambologna, the Certosa bronzes were molded, cast, and chased by Susini, expert bronzeworker.[34] Susini also collected the payments, as the account books divulge.

The precise dating of these bronzes opens a valuable window onto the technical aspects of bronze production in Giambologna’s and related workshops. Their excellent state of preservation has allowed study and analysis that have significantly advanced our knowledge of original Renaissance bronze surfaces and helped Richard Stone reproduce the recipe and process of patination in the workshop, thereby providing a better understanding of what these objects looked like when they were made.[35] The fact that the bronzes, though carefully and thoroughly finished after casting, contain no screw plugs may provide a terminus post quem for a practice that soon thereafter, probably in the first decade or two of the seventeenth century, became standard for bronzeworkers in the Giambologna workshop and subsequent traditions.[36]

(For key to shortened references see bibliography in Allen, Italian Renaissance and Baroque Bronzes in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. NY: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2022.)

1. Archivio di Stato, Florence, Rel. Soppr. 51, Certosa di San Lorenzo, 87, p. 425v; partial transcriptions in Keutner 1955b, p. 142; Keutner 1957, p. 11 n. 6; Chiarelli and Leoncini 1982, p. 255; C. Avery 2012, p. 9, with facsimile on pp. 20–21.
2. Baldinucci 1845–47, vol. 4, p. 110.
3. Moreni 1792, pp. 119–20 (Lettera decima). Caterina Chiarelli (in Chiarelli and Leoncini 1982, p. 255) noted that this is the only source to describe the bronzes in situ.
4. Desjardins 1883, p. 157. Foucques de Vagnonville, on whose notes Desjardins relied, began compiling his material as early as the 1850s; see Cotta 2002, p. 380 n. 10.
5. Keutner 1957, p. 2.
6. Leoncini 1979, pp. 202–4; Chiarelli and Leoncini 1982, pp. 250–51.
7. Chiarelli and Leoncini 1982, p. 255.
8. There is no reason to believe that the Christ was intended to crown the structure, as per C. Avery and Radcliffe 1978, p. 147. The hierarchy of a five-niche configuration also would demand that the Christ occupy the middle. The door giving access to the host chamber is on the sixth side, facing away from the nave.
9. Keutner 1955b, p. 142.
10. Here, I refer to the Spencer Museum evangelist as Mark and the unlocated evangelist as Luke; their actual identities are unclear (see below).
11. Krahn 1995, p. 396.
12. See, for example, C. Avery 2012, frontis., figs. 1, 6.
13. At about 20 cm tall, the angels are roughly three-quarters the size of Christ and the evangelists.
14. Zikos 2010, p. 177.
15. Coppel 2001, pp. 64–68; Arbeteta 2002, pp. 176–77.
16. Berger and Krahn 1994, pp. 88–92.
17. C. Avery and Radcliffe 1978, p. 147.
18. Sotheby’s, London, December 8, 1994, lot 63.
19. The figures were carved 1577–79; C. Avery 1987, pp. 193–95.
20. C. Avery 2012, p. 16.
21. It is of note that by September of 1595, Giambologna’s agent had a small-scale model of the Saint Matthew in Carrara to help with selecting a block of marble for Orvieto; Keutner 1955a, p. 18. This must have closely resembled the corresponding Certosa bronze.
22. C. Avery 1987, p. 198.
23. See C. Avery 1987, pp. 109–12; Berger and Krahn 1994, p. 91.
24. See Cole 2008, pp. 339, 341; Baldinucci 1845–47, vol. 2, pp. 560–63.
25. Wilhelm von Bode, on an undated photograph of the Christ, called it “an excellent example of Gian Bologna’s Christus” (ESDA/OF); Comstock (1926, p. 29) describes the Christ and two angels as “by Gian Bologna”; Keutner (1955b, p. 143, and 1957, p. 2) gives the modeling of the evangelists to Giambologna, and the Christ and six angels to Susini (who cast all the figures), supporting his argument by saying that only the evangelists were reproduced; Phillips (1959, p. 222) accepts Keutner’s opinion; Avery (C. Avery and Radcliffe 1978, pp. 147–49, and C. Avery 1987, p. 265) labels the Christ as by Susini after Giambologna and equivocates on the modeling of the Saint John and Saint Matthew, citing possible models by Giambologna to challenge Baldinucci’s ascription of the modeling to Susini; Weihrauch (1967, p. 222) describes all eleven statuettes as a joint work of Giambologna and Susini; Berger and Krahn (1994, pp. 91–92) give the modeling of the evangelists to Susini, reasonably asserting that after fifteen years in Giambologna’s workshop, he had absorbed the master’s style; Avery (2012, pp. 15–16) reverses his earlier more nuanced opinions, arguing that all of the statuettes in the series are “bronzes actually by Giambologna himself.”
26. C. Avery 1987, p. 28.
27. Keutner 1955a, pp. 18–19.
29. Ibid. Baldinucci also refers to Francavilla for this commission.
30. For a summary of this evidence, see Zikos 2006b, pp. 38–39.
31. Zikos 2010, p. 177.
32. Baldinucci 1845–47, vol. 4, p. 110.
33. For Riccardi’s role, see Moreni 1792, pp. 119–20 (Lettera decima); Leoncini 1979, pp. 203–4.
34. It is possible that Susini had a hand in modeling some of the less important figures (especially the angels), so much had he assimilated Giambologna’s style by this time.
35. Stone 2010.
36. Richard Stone first suggested this possibility; R. Stone/TR, October 21, 2010.

Saint Matthew, Model and cast by Antonio Susini (Italian, 1558–1624 Florence), Bronze, Italian, Florence

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