MATTHIAS STOMER

CHRIST BEFORE THE HIGH PRIEST

ca.1600 Amersfoort – after 1652 Sicily
Canvas, 69 x 96cm
ca.1640

Essay

Matthias Stomer, also called Stom, was born around 1600 in Amersfoort near Utrecht. It is not known where the young artist started his career but there is a strong South Netherlandish streak in Stomer`s works, comparable to the paintings of Jan Van Dyck or Peter Paul Rubens that indicates a contact with Antwerp.

During the early 17th century a number of Northern European artists were influenced by the innovative realism of the Italian proto-Baroque painter Caravaggio. Among these Utrecht Caravaggesque painters was Gerrit van Honthorst, Hendrick ter Brugghen, Dirck Van Baburen as well as Matthias Stomer, who was recorded in Rome between 1630 and 32. All
this artist came from a long tradition of Dutch understanding for texture and combined it with the new understanding of light and the so called chiaroscuro-effect from Italy. After 1632 the Stomer remained some years in Naples before moving to Sicily, where he is known to be working in 1641. His last years Stomer was active in Messina and Palermo.

Among the common Dutch Caravaggism Matthias Stomer occupies a place apart, as he rejected humorous genre scenes and elaborate decorative allegories in favour of scenes from the Old and New Testaments. There are a few comparable works such as Christ before the High Priest painted by Gerrit van Honthorst (fig.1.) which may have influenced our discussed master piece directly. Dramatically lit night-time scenes such as this depiction of Caiaphas accusing Christ of blasphemy became Stomer’s specialty. The beautifully staged confrontation contrasts the theatrically gesturing priest with a serene Christ bathed in light and seeming to be an altogether different order of being from the coarse false witnesses behind him. It would be difficult to find a work in which the flickering light from a candle flame is conveyed with such rich tonal effects as in this. This one little source of light makes the center, as well as the whole unity of the action towards the background which is kept in complete darkness to underline the happening in the fore ground.

The encounter of hands illuminated in the center of the composition allows the viewer to sense the source of the conflict. Furthermore is the positioning of the one-quarter-length figures close to the picture plane striking. It creates a composition that engages the viewer with its immediacy and emphasises the powerful moment in which Christ refuses to deny that he is the true son of god.

There are two other paintings existing, painted by Matthias Stomer between 1633 and 1650, showing the same scenery with a distant perspective (fig.2 and fig.3). In all shown versions the composition with three figures engrossed in a conspiratorial conversation is marked by the gestural hands and enlightened faces.

It is known that Stomer painted for various churches in Italy, including an 'Adoration of the Shepherds' for the high altar of the Capuchin Church in Monreale and was under discussion for a great Passion series for the Capuchin Church of St. Efremo in Naples. Great collector such as Antonio Ruffio bought collected Stomer's dramatic and realistic paintings when the  artist was living in Palermo around 1640.

 

Paintings in Museums and Public Collections:
Uffici Gallery, Florenz
Museo del Prado, Madrid
Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rennes
Hermitage, Moskau
Staatliche Museen, Berlin
Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt
Kunstmuseum Basel, Basel

 

 


Provenance

Private Collection


Literature

Hermitage Catalogues: 1958, II,1981, p. 272.
Nicolson, Benedict, Caravaggism in Europe, vol. III, Turín, Umberto Allemandi, 1990, no.1545.
Schneider A. V., Nue Zuschreibungen an Matthias Stomer, Oud Holland, La Haya, 1923-1924, p. 229.
Wright, Christopher, The Dutch Painters. 100 XVII Seventeenth Century Masters, Woodby, Nueva York, Barron's, 1978, p. 186.
Valdivieso González, Enrique, Pintura holandesa del siglo XVII en España, Valladolid, Publicaciones del Departamento de Historia del Arte de la Universidad, 1973, p. 370.

 

 

fig.1. Gerrit van Honthorst
Christ before the High Priest
The National Gallery, London

fig.2. Matthias Stom,
Christ and Nikodemus, between 1640-50
Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt

fig.3. Matthias Stomer,
Christ before Caiphas the High Priest, ca.1633
Oil on canvas, 142,2 x 184,7cm
Milwaukee Art Museum