The Museo del Prado, the Real Academia Gallega de Bellas Artes and the Fundación Catedral de Santiago are the joint organisers of this monographic exhibition of works by Master Mateo for the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, offering visitors an in-depth focus on a golden period in the history of the building, spanning the years 1168 to 1211.
The exhibition features the nine known sculptures that have survived from the lost façade of the Portico of Glory, including a recently rediscovered one; other elements that were also part of that façade, including a rose window and two keystones; and elements such as the sculptures of Saint Matthew and Horses from the Retinue of the Three Kings which are fundamental for understanding the stone choir that occupied for first four sections of the nave until the 17th century. In total, the exhibition includes fourteen works which have been brought together for the first time in almost 500 years and have left their habitual locations for the first time in order to offer a new and complete account at the Museo del Prado of the work of Master Mateo and his workshop over more than four decades at the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. This was a period when the building underwent a profound artistic and theological transformation.
Master Mateo retained the previous work undertaken during the bishopric of Diego Gelmírez, when considerable advances were made on the cathedral’s construction between the years 1101 and 1140, including the dedication of the ambulatory altars and the high altar, the construction of the crossing façades (Platerías Doorway and Paradise Doorway) and the start of work on the cathedral’s nave. Mateo then embarked on the completion of the building at a date no later than 1168, the year he was granted a lifetime pension by Ferdinand II of León in a document on display in the exhibition.
Master Mateo and his workshop carried out significant work in three important areas of the cathedral: the so-called “crypt”; the Portico of Glory; and the lost west façade. He was also responsible for the stone choir that was installed in the first four sections of the nave.
The “crypt” or “old cathedral” was built to correct the difference of level between the cathedral’s nave and aisles and the Plaza del Obradoiro. It also functioned to support the Portico, with which it shares numerous formal and particularly iconographic features, introducing new artistic forms into the Iberian Peninsula that combine French, Italian and even Islamic influences.
The most significant part of Master Mateo’s project was the Portico of Glory, one of the masterpieces of European art of the late 12th and early 13th centuries. Carved on the lintels set in place on 1 April 1188 is the statement that Master Mateo had directed work on the cathedral “from its foundations”. The Portico is currently the subject of a restoration project to recover its abundant polychromy and to resolve various conservation issues.