Master Mateo
Biography of Spanish Medieval Romanesque Sculptor.

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Portico de la Gloria, detail (1168-1217)
Outstanding stone sculpture at
Santiago de Compostela Cathedral.

For details of the origins and
development of the plastic arts
see: History of Sculpture.

Gothic Sculpture (1150-1280)
Cathedral Art, Ile de France.
German Gothic Sculpture
Strasbourg, Bamberg Cathedrals
English Gothic Sculpture
Wells, Westminster Cathedrals
See also: Gothic Architecture.

Master Mateo (active 1168-1188)

Master Mateo (or Mateo de Compostela) is the name given to the anonymous Spanish medieval Romanesque sculptor that derives from his greatest work of Romanesque art, dating to 1188 - the triple doorway known as the Portico de la Gloria, of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, itself one of the great pilgrimage churches of Romanesque architecture (1000-1200).

Scholars of medieval art consider this to be the greatest work of Spanish Romanesque sculpture of the age, and was a major point of reference for Galician sculptors until the 15th century and the unification of Castile and Aragon.

Note: compare Master Mateo with other medieval artists such as Gislebertus and the Master of Cabestany (both 12th century).

Santiago de Compostela

Reputed to be the burial place of the apostle St James, Santiago de Compostela was the terminus of one of the great pilgrimage routes of the Middle Ages. The Portico de la Gloria is one of the few sections of the original Romanesque church still visible; most of the rest of the Cathedral has been rebuilt in the ensuing centuries. Like the column figures at Chartres Cathedral, the column statues at Santiago de Compostela include Old Testament kings and prophets. Also included are the apostles, depicted along with their attributes. Like a good deal of medieval sculpture, the figures were originally decorated in polychrome paint, which has now all but disappeared.

Benedetto Antelami (active 1178-1196)
Nicola Pisano (c.1206-1278)
Giovanni Pisano (c.1250-1314)
Arnolfo di Cambio (c.1240-1310)
Giovanni di Balduccio (c.1290-1339)
Andrea Pisano (1295-1348)

For a list of the world's best
3-D artists, see: Greatest Sculptors.

For a list of the world's top 100
3-D artworks, by the best sculptors
in the history of art, see:
Greatest Sculptures Ever.


The Portico da Gloria

The 12th century Portico da Gloria, located in the west portal, is one of the main beauty spots of the cathedral. A masterpiece of Romanesque sculpture, created between 1168 and 1188 by Master Mateo at the commission of king Ferdinand II of Leon. The shafts, tympana and archivolts of the three doorways - opening onto the two aisles and nave - are home to a host of powerful sculpture depicting the Last Judgment. The figures are sculpted with the bold naturalism of the late-Romanesque period.

Doorway Sculptures

The central tympanum presents an image of Christ in Majesty as Judge and Redeemer, revealing the sacred wounds in his feet and hands. He is accompanied by the tetramorph, and flanked by a gathering of angels holding the symbols of the Passion. In the archivolt we see the 24 Elders of the Apocalypse, with their musical instruments.

The central pier depicts Saint James, in a mood of serenity. Pilgrims would commonly touch the left foot of this column-statue to reflect the fact that they completed their pilgrimage, and so many pilgrims have rubbed the pillar that a hollow has been worn in the stone.

The left tympanum shows scenes from the Old Testament, while the right tympanym is divided in three parts and celebrates the salvation of the souls after Judgement. Christ and St Michael are positioned in the centre, flanked on either side by Heaven and Hell. Purgatory is depicted on the side.

Note About Sculpture Appreciation
To learn how to judge artists like the Romanesque sculptor Master Mateo, see: How to Appreciate Sculpture.

Statue of Mateo the Sculptor

Behind the portico is the statue of the master architect and sculptor Maestro Mateo. According to legend, whoever hits their head three times against the freestanding sculpture will receive a tiny part of Mateo's genius, and an improved memory. As a result, it is usual to see a long line of visitors waiting to butt their head against the statue.

More Articles on 12th Century Romanesque Art

For more about progressive Romanesque art in Western Europe, please see the important school of Mosan Art, centered around Liege in present-day Belgium, which was exemplified by the outstanding metalwork and goldsmithery of Nicholas of Verdun (1156-1232) and Godefroid de Claire (1100-1173).

• For the history and types of sculpture, see: Homepage.

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