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Masolino, A Pope (Saint Gregory?) and Saint Matthias

Key facts
Full title A Pope (Saint Gregory?) and Saint Matthias
Artist Masolino
Artist dates about 1383 - about 1436
Series Santa Maria Maggiore Altarpiece
Date made about 1428-9
Medium and support Tempera grassa and oil on poplar, transferred to fibreboard
Dimensions 126.3 × 59.1 cm
Acquisition credit Bought with a contribution from the Art Fund, 1950
Inventory number NG5963
Location Gallery E
Collection Main Collection
A Pope (Saint Gregory?) and Saint Matthias

Saint Matthias holds the axe that was used to chop his head in half. He was not widely worshipped but he was an important saint for the church of Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome, where this panel formed part of an altarpiece: his relics were buried there, and he was depicted in a mosaic in the east end of the church.

To his left is the pope, Saint Gregory the Great, wearing the papal tiara – three layers of gold crowns. According to legend, Gregory made a procession to Santa Maria Maggiore in 590 to ask for the Virgin’s help when the city was struck by a plague. Another story tells how one Easter, when he was celebrating Mass at the church, a great chorus of angels appeared miraculously around him. Pope Martin V, who may have commissioned this altarpiece, was particularly devoted to Saint Gregory and may have specified his inclusion.

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Santa Maria Maggiore Altarpiece


The Florentine painters Masaccio and Masolino often collaborated on large-scale projects. These panels come from a double-sided altarpiece made for the church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. It was placed in the canon’s choir and probably commissioned by the wealthy and notable Colonna family.

One side would have been visible to only the canons – the clergymen connected specifically to the church and bound by its rules – who worshipped in this chapel and the other side to all who prayed in the church. The chapel was dedicated to Saint John the Baptist which explains his presence with Saint Jerome on the panel by Masaccio, Saints Jerome and John the Baptist. The painting by Masolino, A Pope (Saint Gregory?) and Saint Matthias, was once on the other side of the same panel. Masolino completed the altarpiece after Masaccio died in Rome of the plague in 1428/9.