Matthew The Apostle and Evangelist

The statue

Matthew rests a writing tablet on his bended knee, ready to write down the gospel. A bag of money stands at his feet, and from behind him a winged child peeks out.

The story

Matthew, also know as Levi, was a publican, meaning a tax collector for the Romans, and it is clearly stated that: ”As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him”. Matthew preached in Ethiopia, and here among other things, he saved the king’s daughter, Ephigenia, from getting married. Sadly, however, he was executed for the feat.

Tradition attributes Matthew as being the author of one of the four gospels; in the arts he is therefore depicted either with the other three evangelists: John, Luke and Mark or with the other Apostles as here in Church of Our Lady.

As an Apostle Matthew often holds a numbers board or a bag of money as his characteristic, but as an evangelist he is identified by a winged man following him. Portraying him in the role of evangelist is extremely unusual when he is with the Apostles, and Thorvaldsen must have made a conscious decision to do so, because he portrays John, who shares the dual role, in the same manner, and in Church of Our Lady he is characterised by his evangelist emblem, an eagle, and not a chalice with a snake, which is his apostle emblem.

Thorvaldsen could hardly have seen this anywhere else, but must have decided on this portrayal on his own. Unfortunately, there are no written sources available to shed light on his inspiration for the depiction. In the Gospel according to Matthew, it is underlined that even before the birth of Jesus God had chosen him to fulfil the prophecies and promises of the Old Testament, and there is extra focus on accounting for the ancestry and childhood story of Jesus. The Gospel represents the incarnation of God appearing in the form of Man. In the Gospel according to John, the resurrection of Jesus is emphasised, and the two gospels thus represent the beginning and the end. That may be the reason for Matthew and John appearing as evangelists even though they are depicted in the row of Apostles.

The symbols of the four evangelists are: John’s eagle, Matthew’s angel, Mark’s lion and Luke’s ox. Their origin is partly Ezekiel’s vision and partly the Book of Revelation, where four heavenly creatures carry the Throne of God.

The facts

The sketch was made by Thorvaldsen in 1821, and the statue was modelled in late 1821 by Luigi Bienaimé.