Friday, April 25, 2014

The Divine Inspiration of Saint Matthew

Most people who will see this exhibit are familiar with divine inspiration, which is the belief that there was an illumination of the gospel writers while writing the books of the Bible. In the evangelical church, debates have persisted about the mode of inspiration of the gospel writers. Arguments exist as to whether this inspiration was by the verbal plenary theory, dictation theory, or the divine inspiration theory; though most hold to divine inspiration theory, all views are well known and critiqued.

The Divine Inspiration of Saint Matthew does not seek to answer these questions but rather to express the ways in which artists have portrayed the inspiration of St. Matthew through the ages while setting up a conversation between the supernatural and natural, how they interact and are often intertwined. This exhibit is organized in chronological order to show how divine inspiration has been portrayed and reimagined in history as time goes on. This exhibit spans from the Byzantine Empire to the Renaissance to modern day impressionism. The supernatural is expressed in this exhibit in terms of the use of shapes and s-curves to transform planes and latent symbols that are expressive of the supernatural, while the natural is expressed in terms of non-divine symbols and the use of neutral colors such as gray and brown. Neutral colors in this exhibit act as contrasts to make the scenery look more naturalistic and “earthly” as opposed “other worldly” or exuberant. These themes characterize the Divine Inspiration of St. Matthew. Enjoy!

Andrei Rublev, Saint Matthew the evangelist, 1400's, Fresco, Khitrovo Gospels , Russian State Library

This fresco by Andrei Rublev is very stylized and draws a lot from Byzantine influences. While there isn't any concrete evidence of divine inspiration such as a holy muse, angel, or cupid, it is implied with the iconoclasm's of the pen, book and scenery.  The scenery is balanced with contrasts of gray and brighter colors to make it more naturalistic and life like. Rublev’s Saint Matthew portrays a more naturalistic divine inspiration of Saint Matthew.  

Michelangelo, St. Matthew, 1506, Marble, Galleria dell’ Aademia, Florence, Italy 

In the Early 1500’s Michelangelo began making a collection of 12 apostles; he was only able to start one, which was the apostle St. Matthew in 1506 that remains uncompleted to date. Despite its unfinished state, it was claimed to be “the depth and excellence of Michelango’s intellect and talent”[i] by Benedetto Varchi. In this sculpture Michelangelo re-orients the traditional s-curve about the central axis; rather than from left to right or vice versa, he makes an s-curve in terms of depth while retaining a glyptic quality. The massive musculature of this marble masterpiece suggests a borrowing from Greek idealized male which reflects a heroic supernatural view of divine inspiration.   

Anonymous, Saints Mark and Matthew, 1600’s, bronze sculpture, The MET, asc no: 1985.195.5 


This anonymous sculpture resides in the MET and is thought to be of French origin from the 17th century. This is a bronze sculpture/carving of Saints Mark and Matthew from left to right.  This sculpture shows Saints Mark and Matthew sitting and writing together in an unearthly space while Saint Matthew leans over to look at the writings of Saint Mark. This is significant because it is consistent with modern interpretation of how a lot of passages in Mark, Matthew and Luke are very similar with the idea of a source Q, from which all their overlapping information is taken. This, combined with the use of iconoclasm of the angel/ cupid, all come to signify a representation of a supernatural view of divine inspiration.

 Antonio Susini, St.Matthew, 1596-1608, bronze sculpture, The MET , asc no: 57.136.2

This sculpture of Saint Matthew by Antonio Susini is the centerpiece of this exhibit. It was made around 1608 in Florence and modeled after a design by Giambologna ; this sculpture is a mastery of form and function.  Susini uses bronze for St. Matthew to express a greater deal of freedom in terms of lack of support and contrapposto. Susini’s Saint Matthew, like the French Saints Mark and Matthew by Anonymous, also has a cupid figure which suggests that the sculpture is expressive of a supernatural view of divine inspiration.  

Camille-Auguste Gastine, St. Matthew, 1819-1867, Drawings, the MET, asc no: 1992.219.1 

 The St. Matthew by Camille –Auguste Gastine is very unique because it is a drawing with graphite and white gouache on a grayish-brown paper. The colors at work in this drawing, similar to Saint Matthew the Evangelist by Andrei Rublov, provide a contrasting effect between the background of gray and St. Matthew in a lighter grayish-white with some gray in specific areas of his body creating shadows. This drawing has very visible outlines that give it a rough unfinished quality; these effects combine to give it a naturalistic feel. At the same time the iconoclasm of the halo surrounding the head of St. Matthew gives us a sense of the supernatural.  Gastine combines the two views into one to create harmony between the supernatural and the natural.

Arno Breker, St.Matthew, 1927, sculpture, Bronze, Sculpture Park, Hugovoeten 

This sculpture by Arno Breker has been labeled controversial because his work was endorsed by Nazi German authorities as the antithesis of degenerate art in Germany. This masterpiece of bronze is life sized and like, Susini’s St. Matthew, Breker uses bronze to give more freedom to the physical orientation of the sculpture. In this sculpture St. Matthew is captured in a pose of what some would describe as in awe and or searching for inspiration and enlightenment from the heavens with his right hand holding a book.  This pose of St. Matthew ultimately leans toward the supernatural view of divine inspiration.  

[i]   Michaël J. Amy (2000). The Dating of Michelango’s St. Matthew. Vol. 142, No. 1169 pg. 493 Retrieved from http:/

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