XIX CENTURY RESTORATION
The Atelier De Matteis at Santa Maria Novella1

The atelier De Matteis, founded in Florence by Ulisse De Matteis in 1859, was an integral part of the restoration of many public monuments in Florence. Ulisse De Matteis was born in Florence in 1828. He fought in the first war of Italian liberation against Austria in the late 1840's, and, upon his return to Florence, he studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence with the renowned painter Stefano Ussi. De Matteis’ career as a painter was relatively short lived: in the 1850's, he decided to dedicate his career to making and restoring stained glass windows in what he and many contemporaries called "the grand style of the ancients." Thus, in 1859, Ulisse De Matteis founded his stained glass workshop in Florence in the Via Guelfa together with his two younger brothers. De Matteis’ obituary in the Corriere della Sera reports that he died at the age of 82, lists several of his important commissions in Florence and abroad, and ceremoniously places him in the circle of the nineteenth-century Macchaioli painters Telemaco Signorini, Giovanni Fattori and his former professor Stefano Ussi, with whom he was imprisoned in Austria during the wars for Italian independence2. The De Matteis evidently turned over the position of artistic director in 1904 to the Florentine painter Ezio Giovanozzi3. Giovanozzi worked in the Liberty and Renaissance revival styles which were quite popular: following Ulisse De Matteis’ death, Giovanozzi created some of the largest and best-preserved stained glass cycles in the firm’s history.

In a catalog published under Giovanozzi’s direction in 1915, the firm lists all of the works created and restored by the firm since its inception. De Matteis was evidently involved with the restoration and "re-creation" of the two most significant works in the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence. The 1915 catalog reports that the firm restored the window in the sacristy and added a panel of the Nativity which was missing from the lower part of the window. This work was commissioned by the Municipality of Florence. In addition, the firm restored the large window in the apse of the church4.

Nancy M. Thompson
Assistant Professor of Art History
St. Olaf College, Northfield, MN
thompsn@stolaf.edu 

NOTES

  1. For more on the work of De Matteis, see the file on the firm’s windows in the Birmingham, Alabama Museum of Art.

  2. Corriere della sera, 18 February, 1910.

  3. Giovanozzi was born in Florence in 1882. See Commanducci’s entry on Giovanozzi, vol. 3 (1972), 1497. He was still alive in 1963 when he had a show of his paintings at the Saletta d’arte Gonnelli in Florence.

  4. The Italian text reads, "CHIESA DI SANTA MARIA NOVELLA IN FIRENZE: Restauro del vetratone triforo della maniera di Spinello Aretino, nella sagrestia della chiesa, con aggiunta nella parte inferiore di esso di una storia ‘ La Natività’ mancante. Lavoro eseguito per comissione del Municipio di Firenze. Restauro parziale del grance vetratone absidale della chiesa."