Today's Gospel in Art - Feast of Saint Matthias

  • Patrick van der Vorst

Saint Matthias, Simone Martini 1317 © Metropolitan Museum, New York

Saint Matthias, Simone Martini 1317 © Metropolitan Museum, New York

Gospel of 14th May 2020 - John 15: 9-17

Jesus said to his disciples, "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another."

Reflection on the Painted Panel

Today we celebrate the Feast of Saint Matthias. Matthias was, according to the Acts of the Apostles (1:21-26), chosen by the apostles to replace Judas Iscariot after he betrayed Jesus. Matthias' calling as an apostle is unique, as his appointment was not made personally by Jesus Himself, who had already ascended into Heaven. There is no mention of a Matthias in the three Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Luke, Matthew), but according to the Acts of The Apostles, he had been with Jesus from his Baptism until His Ascension.

Our painted panel today, executed around 1317 in Siena, would have been part of a predella of a large altarpiece or a row of paintings depicting also the other 11 apostles. Therefore Matthias was probably placed on the left side, gazing downwards towards the altar to the right. The Bible he is holding is also pointing in that direction. This is a good example of when paintings interact with the space outside the painting itself. A total interaction between art and the liturgy of the Eucharist taking place underneath the painted panels.

According to the legend, St Matthias preached in Judea. He was tried before the High Priest and condemned to be stoned to death. When this method miraculously failed, he was killed with an axe. So in art, he is often depicted with an axe, but when painted as part of an altarpiece such as is the case here, he is usually depicted holding the Bible, as a gentler image.


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