An extremely elegant scribe, he worked in Mantua for Ludovico Gonzaga (1414-1478), in Ferrara for Ercole I Este (1431-1505), in Urbino for Federico da Montefeltro (1422-1482). Little is known about the years preceding its activity in these courts. Some news is inferred by his own colophons; one of the most complete is that of Urb. lat. 324, where both the city of birth and the name of his father appear: «Manu Matthaei Domini Herculani de Contugiis de Vulterris» (f. 84r); little more is said in Harley 3567, a manuscript of the British Library in London: «Manu Matthaei olim eximii equitis et doctoris domini Herculani de Contugiis de Vulterris» (f. 189r). Contugi was therefore from Volterra; his father was identified with the jurist Ercolano (d. 1429), who also held important roles in some political events in the city.
His presence in Urbino is documented by numerous letters sent to the Marquis Ludovico Gonzaga in the years 1477-1486; nevertheless it cannot be discounted that his arrival at the court of Federico may have happened earlier. His signature can be found in 7 Urbinati codices: Urb. lat. 10 («Manu Matthaei domini herculani de Contugiis de vulterris et caetera», f. 242r), Urb. lat. 324 («Manu Matthaei domini Herculani de Contugiis de Vulterris», f. 84r), Urb. lat. 336 («Manu Matthaei de Vulterris», f. 155r), Urb. lat. 365 («Manu Matthaei de contugiis de vulterris et caetera», f. 295r), Urb. lat. 392 («Manu Matthaei de vulterris», f. 264r), Urb. lat. 427 and Urb. lat. 548 («Manu Matthaei de Contugiis de Vulterris», f. 184r and f. 329v respectively). None of the manuscripts which he undersigned for Federico is dated, but all are referable to the years of the duchy, that is, after 1474. The date at the end of Urb. lat. 324 («Sexto decimo Kalendas Maias 1458»), interpreted by many as a colophon, has been shown to be the date of composition of the last text contained in the manuscript (see Critelli, Per la carriera di Matteo Contugi, pp. 292-293, 295 fig. 8).
In a famous epistle from October 16, 1478 (Archivio Gonzaga, b. 1229, f. 55r-v), Contugi writes to the Marquis Federico Gonzaga from the city of Ferrara, where he says he is staying in order to urge on the completion the miniature of the current Urb. lat. 365, the Dante Urbinate, entrusted to Guglielmo Giraldi. These proceeded very slowly with respect to the expectations and Contugi went to verify the work in person; shortly afterwards he transferred the artist to Urbino, evidently hoping that under more direct control he would proceed more quickly (for the text of the letter see Il Dante Urbinate cit., pp. 35-36, 42, 55-56 and plate XI). In general, however, the letters sent to the Gonzaga family from Urbino do not concern the activity of copying the manuscripts, but rather contain information of a political nature, concerning the court and its duke. In this regard it was supposed that, when Federico wanted to create a copy center in Urbino, the Marquis of Mantua himself may have suggested Contugi as a scribe, also in order to obtain information about his movements. Contugi is «a refined and intelligent man, who had a respectable position in the court of Urbino. He was above all suspicion under this title, even if, since he came from Volterra, the city that the duke had plundered, Contugi had good reason to nourish a secret resentment against him» (original text: Simonetta, L’enigma Montefeltro, p. 173, but see also pp. 174, 179, 196, 209, 221-223, 248, 249; on his role as a political observer and even as a «spy» see Chambers, The Visit to Mantua, pp. 6 e 10, Appendix 1; Simonetta, Federico da Montefeltro architetto, pp. 93-94, 96-97, n. 33-35, 40-44; Chambers, Matteo Contugi of Volterra, pp. 171-198).
Moreover, Contugi was employed in administrative positions even for the duke of Urbino himself, as proven by the way that he signs some letters («Mattheus de Vulterris officialis custodie et presidens bullettarum»: Mantua, Archivio di Stato, Archivio Gonzaga, b. 846, f. 595r-v, dated Urbino, April 23, 1482).
After the death of Federico, in the period of regency of Ottaviano Ubaldini, tutor of Guidubaldo, Contugi seems to have remained in Urbino, where he continued to work. Two notes attached to the Indice vecchio in the margins of the works of Dionigi Areopagita help to reconstruct an assignment given to him to complete a manuscript of that author.
For this reason the count authorizes him to borrow some quinternions (one to be completed and the others to be copied), which apparently were not returned («Habuit Matthaus Volaterranus de mandato, nec restituit» and «Matthaeus Volaterannus ad scribendum et non restituit», Urb. lat. 1761, ff. 20v and 117r).
The last testimonies concerning him consist of some letters from the years 1488-1491 exchanged with the Florentine chronicler Benedetto Dei (1418-1492), written from Ferrara, Agello (PG) and Perugia (transmitted by the Vat. lat. 9063 on ff. 131r-153v). After 1491 there is no other information known about him.
BONICATTI, Contributo al Giraldi, pp. 195-210; ID., Nuovo contributo, pp. 259-269; BÉNÉDICTINS DE BOUVERET, Colophons des manuscrits occidentaux, IV, pp. 166-167, nrr. 13398-13408; DEROLEZ, La codicologie des manuscrits, I, p. 151 nr. 291; DE LA MARE, New research, pp. 449-450 nt. 224; CRITELLI, Per la carriera di Matteo Contugi, pp. 251-265.