Santi Gregorio Magno e Mattia (c.1428-1429)

Masolino da Panicale (c.1383-c.1440)

Santi Gregorio Magno e Mattia (Saint Gregory? and Saint Matthias)
Tempera grassa and oil on poplar, transferred to fibreboard, 126.3 x 59.1 cm
National GalleryLondon

Saint Matthias is shown holding the axe that was used to kill him; if you look closely you can see blood dripping down the handle. He was elected to become an apostle after one of them, Judas, betrayed Christ and killed himself. Matthias was martyred by Jewish priests. While he was not widely worshipped, he was an important saint for the church of Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome, where this panel formed part of an altarpiece. According to the Golden Legend his body was buried there. He was also depicted in a mosaic in the east end of the church.

To Matthias’s left is a papal saint – possibly Saint Liberius, who founded the church of Santa Maria Maggiore, but more likely Saint Gregory the Great, wearing the papal tiara (three layers of gold crowns). His cloak would have gleamed brightly when it was first painted as Masolino used a ground of silver leaf and added a red glaze over the top. According to legend, when the city was struck by a plague in 590, Gregory made a procession to Santa Maria Maggiore to ask for the Virgin’s help. Another story tells how one Easter, when he was celebrating Mass at the church, a great chorus of angels appeared miraculously around him. Pope Martin V, who may have commissioned the altarpiece was particularly devoted to Saint Gregory and may have specified his inclusion.

Masolino painted this image on the reverse of Masaccio’s Saint Jerome and Saint John the Baptist. His style is finer and more delicate than Masaccio’s, whose figures are more robust. He also mixed oil into his tempera (egg-bound) paints, unlike Masaccio, who only used egg. The use of oil enabled Masolino to achieve very subtle changes in tone and to create the delicate shaping of the facial features, their contours and volume emphasised by how they reflect the light. (NG)

The other side of the same panel:

Masaccio (1401-1428)
Santi Girolamo e Giovanni Battista
National GalleryLondon



See also:

Gregory the Great, St., Pope Gregorius I (c.540-604) | Santa Maria Maggiore (Roma)