Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the four evangelists, (2001.10.1-.4) are identified by the figures at their feet. The attribute of Matthew is always a child or putto, that of Mark, a lion, Luke, an ox, and John, an eagle. Used since early Christian times, this convention stems from two passages in the bible: Ezekiel 1:5-14 and Revelations 4:6-8. Each evangelist holds a book, which refers to his gospel.
These four terracottas are sculptural models. They are small-scale preparatory studies created in preparation for the over-life-size marbles flanking the nave in Santa Maria della Fava, Venice. These are the only known sculptural models in existence by Giuseppe Bernardi, who was the master of the great Neo-classical sculptor, Antonio Canova. These works reveal Bernardi’s virtuosic modeling skills in the powerful musculature of the figures and in the energetic folds of the robes. They also demonstrate the origins of Canova’s own adroit and expressive techniques with clay.