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Matteo di Giovanni

Sienese, c. 1430 - 1497

di Giovanni di Bartolo, Matteo; da Siena, Matteo

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Matteo di Giovanni, born in Sansepolcro, is first mentioned in Siena, where he is documented in 1452 and then again in 1453 and 1457. In these years Matteo, who must still have been quite young, appears as a partner of Giovanni di Pietro (the brother of Vecchietta), with whom he shared a workshop.[1] In their workshop the triptych of the Annunciation was realized (San Pietro Ovile, Siena; the predella is divided between the Musée du Louvre and the John G. Johnson Collection in the Philadelphia Museum of Art), in which the authorship of its individual panels is still a subject of debate. Recent criticism usually assigns to Matteo's youth in the 1450s another work, executed presumably in collaboration with Giovanni di Pietro: the polyptych in Sansepolcro (Museo Civico) that originally included Piero della Francesca's Baptism of Christ, now in the National Gallery in London.

The two altarpieces are characterized by a language related to the art of both Domenico di Bartolo and Vecchietta. Classicizing approaches and naturalistic accuracy are evident in them, together with the expression of intense feelings--which tends, however, to slacken in his earliest signed work, the Madonna and Child with Saints Anthony of Padua and Bernardino in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Siena, dated 1460. In 1462-1463 Matteo painted, at the same time as Sano di Pietro, Vecchietta, and Giovanni di Paolo, a signed altarpiece for the duomo in Pienza, for which he would shortly thereafter paint another altar panel.[2]

The Madonna and Child with Angels dated 1470, painted for the church of the Servites in Siena (Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena, no. 286) exemplifies the mature phase of Matteo's style. By this point the head of a successful workshop, he aimed at a robust plasticism, but also--probably stimulated by the art of Pollaiuolo--at the precisely described anatomic structure of his figures; at the same time, however, he never lost sight of the ideals of grace and preciousness favored by his Sienese patrons. This decade saw the arrival of important commissions such as the Assumption of the Virgin of 1474 (National Gallery, London), the Placidi polyptych of 1476 (San Domenico and Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena), the Madonna of the Snow of 1477 (Siena, Santa Maria della Neve), and the Saint Barbara altarpiece of 1478 (San Domenico, Siena). In this very substantial production of monumental altarpieces, accompanied by the execution of a great number of smaller panels for private devotion, Matteo continues his painstaking search for plasticity, revealing interest in the novelties introduced into Sienese art by Liberale da Verona and Gerolamo da Cremona.

He continues to be documented in Siena, where in 1479 he married for the second time, and in 1483 he received payment for a design for the floor of the cathedral. The success of his work is witnessed by numerous commissions, in which his figurative language tends to become imprisoned in repetitive formulas, but nonetheless still faces with dignity a comparison with the work of the next generation, especially Francesco di Giorgio (Montepescali altarpiece). The three well-known versions of the Massacre of the Innocents (Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena, 1482; Museo di Capodimonte, Naples, 1488; and Santa Maria dei Servi, Siena, 1491) demonstrate the very high level maintained by his work, even in the last years of his life. [This is the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]

[1] On the beginnings of Matteo di Giovanni, see Pope-Hennessy 1944, part 2: 140-143; Carl Strehlke, "Sienese Paintings in the Johnson Collection," Paragone 36, no. 427 (1985): 8-10; and Angelini, Matteo di Giovanni, 1993, 127-135. On Giovanni di Pietro, see Curt Weigelt, "Giovanni di Pietro," in Thieme-Becker, 14 (1921): 138, and Nancy Coe Wixom, "Giovanni di Pietro," in European Paintings before 1500. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, 1974: 73-75, and Carl Strehlke, "Giovanni di Pietro," in Painting in Renaissance Siena 1420-1500, Keith Christiansen, Laurence B. Kanter, and Carl Brandon Strehlke, eds., exh. cat. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1988: 264-269.

[2] See Pia Palladino, "Pittura in una casa di vetro," in Prospettiva, nos. 75-76 (1994): 100-108.

Artist Bibliography

Perkins, Frederick Mason. In Thieme-Becker, 24(1930): 256-257.
Hartlaub, Gustav Friedrich. Matteo da Siena und seine Zeit. Strasbourg, 1910.
Brandi, Cesare. Quattrocentisti senesi. Milan, 1949.
Carli, Enzo. I pittore senesi. Milan, 1971.
Pope-Hennessy, John. "A Shocking Scene." Apollo 115 (March 1982): 150-157.
Trimpi, Enrica S. "Matteo di Giovanni: Documents and a Critical Catalogue of his Panel Paintings." Ph.D. diss., University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1987.
Angelini, Alessandro. "Matteo di Giovanni." In Francesco di Giorgio e il Rinascimento a Siena 1450-1500. Edited by Luciano Bellosi. Exh. cat., Chiesa di Sant' Agostino, Siena. Milan, 1993.
Buricchi, Susanna. Matteo di Giovanni: Opere in Toscana. Sansepolcro, 1998.
Matteo di Giovanni e la pala d'altare nel senese e nell' aretino, 1450-1500. Proceedings of a Symposium held in Sansepolcro, 1998. Ed. D. Gasparotto and S. Magnani. Montepulciano, 2002.
Boskovits, Miklós, and David Alan Brown, et al. Italian Paintings of the Fifteenth Century. The Systematic Catalogue of the National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 2003: 504-505.

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