TEFAF New York Fall
Saint Matthew and the Angel, ca. 1615–17
South America, private collection;
Sotheby’s, New York, 25th January 2007, lot 48 (as Nicolas Régnier).
Milan, Koelliker collection.
A. Lemoine, Nicolas Regnier (alias Niccolò Renieri) ca. 1588–1667. Peintre, collectioneur et marchand d’art, Paris 2007, pp. 334, n. R 38bis; N. Spinosa in Caravaggism and the Baroque in Europe, catalogue of the exhibition, London 2007, pp. 20–21; P. Cavazzini, Peintre à Rome au tournant de Seicento, in Nicolas Régnier l’homme libre v. 1588–1667,catalogue of the exhibition ed. by S. Levy - A. Lemoine - A. Collange Perugi, Paris 2017, p. 63; A. Lemoine ibidem, p. 100.
London, Robilant+Voena, Caravaggism and the Baroque in Europe, London 2007, pp. 20–21;
London, Robilant+Voena, In Pursuit of Caravaggio, 21 November 2016–17 February 2017.
So closely is he associated with the brilliant group of French Caravaggists active in Rome in the early decades of the seventeenth century, Nicolas Régnier’s Flemish origins and early training in Antwerp are often forgotten.1 He was a pupil of Abraham Janssens whose own work had already done much to disseminate the early influence of the Italian Baroque in the North, and whose pupils included some of the most important Flemish tenebrist painters. His biographer and friend, Joachim von Sandrart noted that upon his arrival in Rome, circa 1615, he frequented the studio of Bartolomeo Manfredi, who was to be a continued influence on his style.
This Saint Matthew and the Angel dates from around 1615–17. The figure of the elderly evangelist is depicted slumped over his writing desk as if just roused from sleep by the adolescent angel who rests his hand on the saint’s shoulder. In its strong and evocative narrative conception, it recalls the first Saint Matthew and the Angel which Caravaggio had painted in 1602 for the Contarelli chapel in San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome. That painting was famously rejected because of its uncomfortable imagery and the perceived indecorous pose of the Saint, and as a result was purchased by Vincenzo Giustiniani, one of the greatest collectors of the day. It is a picture which Régnier would have known very well; Giustiniani was one of Régnier’s most important patrons, and the artist lodged in Palazzo Giustiniani for part of his time in Rome. It certainly would have served Régnier as an inspiration for his own depictions of the theme; in fact, among the nine canvases by the artist listed in the Giustiniani inventory of 1638, there is one depicting “S. Matteo [di mano di Nicolò Ranieri]…. in tela alta palmi 11 ½ Larga 9 ½ incirca senza cornici .”2
The Giustiniani Saint Matthew has not been yet identified (and cannot be associated with the present canvas), and other treatments of this subject dating from the years prior to the artist’s departure from Rome are extant. Perhaps the most compelling comparison with the present work may be made with the example in the collection of the Ringling Art Museum, Sarasota, Florida, generally dated to around 1622–25.
The present painting has previously been attributed to the work of both Neapolitan artist Battistello Caracciolo and French artist Nicolas Régnier. The work was sold at Sotheby’s in 2007 with an attribution to Régnier. In the same year Annick Lemoine published the first comprehensive monograph on the French artist; at that time the scholar knew the painting only by Sotheby’s catalogue image and she preferred to publish the painting in the section of attributed works. Ten years later in occasion of the Robilant + Voena’s exhibition In Pursuit of Caravaggio it was finally possible for Lemoine to study the painting firsthand and she confirmed the autograph status of the painting, dating it to the very early years of the artist’s stay in Italy, around 1615–17. The autograph status of the painting was further confirmed by Annick Lemoine and Patrizia Cavazzini in the catalogue of the monographic exhibition held in Nantes in 2017.
1 Régnier was born in the town of Maubeuge, then in the French speaking Flemish province of Hainaut, which was later ceded to France in the Treaty of Nijmegen in 1678.
2 [Trans: "St. Matthew (by the hand of Nicolo Raineri) on canvas about 11 1.2 palmi high by 9 ½ across, unframed"]. The painting was hung in the same room with three other canvases representing the other evangelists by Domenichino, Reni and Albani. It might be supposed that the canvases formed a “made up set,” even though the Reni was of a slightly smaller size, and the other three were of matching measurements. Of all of the canvases, only the Domenichino of Saint John the Evangelist is identifiable (see R. Spear, Domenichino, New Haven and London 1982, pp. 270–27). Please also see S. Danesi Squarzina, La collezione Giustiniani, Turin 2003, vol. I, pp. 343–44.