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Saint Matthias

San Matías San Matías San Matías

Luis Tristan (1580-1624)

  • CE01938
  • ca. 1620
  • Oil on canvas

Saint Matthias is shown with the attribute of his martyrdom, a halberd in his right hand, and a book, a sign of his evangelising work in Judea and Macedonia, in his left. Saint Matthias was the posthumous Apostle chosen to replace Judas and was usually the one who closed this type of series of Apostles, which could also include Christ, the Virgin and Saint Paul.

This painting of the Apostle Matthias combines the essential characteristics of Luis Tristán's production, both in terms of subject matter and formal features. In this case, the rough, crude manner in which the work is painted, as well as the human type of the apostle, is fully in keeping with the production of Tristán and his workshop in the 1610s and 1620s. The old man's face, with its very broad oval, untidy beard and deep furrows on the forehead, is one of the manly types used by Tristan for other models of saints, such as Saint Jerome and Saint Anthony the Abbot. The energetic expressions of the faces and the restrained serenity can also be related to the catalogue of apostles' faces in his Last Supper in the parish church of Cuerva, or in the version in the Museo Nacional del Prado. The most obvious physiognomic precedent is that of the monumental Saint Bartholomew in the Museo de Santa Cruz in Toledo.

Given the composition of the figure, the painting must have been part of a series dedicated to the apostles. The precedent for El Greco's apostolates is quite clear, a compositional formula that was quite successful in view of the series that have survived and the individual examples in various collections. Starting from the prototypes created by his master, the workshop created sets with varying degrees of participation by the master. Tristán's series, although not as widely distributed as those of El Greco, were in demand in Baroque Toledo in accordance with the guidelines of Trento, especially after El Greco's death in 1614. Several apostolates are known to have come out of Luis Tristán's workshop, the first known being the one commissioned by the alderman Sirvendo in 1612, executed on panel, and who demanded of Tristán in the contract that it should be entirely "by his hand and ingenuity"; the one owned by another alderman of Toledo in the 17th century, Juan de Mesa, corresponded to full-length figures; the one that disappeared from the sacristy of the convent of the Capuchins in Toledo, also with full-length figures; and the apostolic series that belonged to King Louis Philippe of Orleans, from the Discalced Carmelites in Toledo, which had half-length figures and somewhat smaller dimensions than this canvas. It is therefore not possible to assign this Saint Matthias to any of the known apostolates in particular, either because of its size or because of the support. Either it could be one of the life-size apostles who had been mutilated, or, being the most convincing hypothesis, it could be a prototype belonging to a hitherto unidentified apostolate.

Although Luis Tristán also painted portraits and is documented as having painted still lifes, his most numerous compositions are devoted to the religious representations demanded by Toledo at the beginning of the 17th century. In addition, he depicted table objects, which speaks of the importance of the still life as one of the most innovative genres of 17th-century painting. Tristán frequently depicted still lifes in his most popular compositions, such as depictions of saints.

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