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Saint James the Greater
Ribera, Jusepe de, lo Spagnoletto
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Ribera, Jusepe de, lo Spagnoletto

Játiva, Valencia (Spain), 1591 - Naples (Italy), 1652

Ribera, Jusepe de, lo Spagnoletto See author's file

Saint James the Greater

1631. Oil on canvas.
Room 009

This work was, until recently, believed to depict Saint James. This was largely due to its description, by Friar Francisco de los Santos in his Descripción breve del Monasterio de S. Lorenzo el Real del Escorial (1657). However, Friar Francisco de los Santos also noted that the apostle is not represented according to customary iconography, for he is depicted in the manner he would have dressed when in Spain ... he expelled the shadows of ignorance. It was only in 1984 that the American scholar of Spanish art history, Jonathan Brown, proposed another identity for the man: Saint Alexius of Rome. The argument in favour of Saint James is based on Friar Francisco de los Santos´s early identification and because the pilgrim´s staff the man holds in his left hand is an attribute of the saint. Nevertheless, comparisons between this painting and other images of Saint James by Jusepe de Ribera -such as one in the Prado (P1082); another in the Museum of Fine Arts of Seville; and a third in a private collection- present numerous differences. In all the others, the saint is easily identifiable, wearing a red mantle and displaying the scallop shell worn by pilgrims who travel to the apostle´s shrine in Santiago de Compostela, Galicia. In this painting, however, the saint´s tattered clothes are brown and black, he is unshod and there is no scallop shell. If Ribera had intended to represent Saint James, he did so in an atypical fashion, eschewing the insignias most commonly associated with him. The attention given to the stairs in this painting is striking. It could be merely a compositional element, but their prominence invites a narrative interpretation. If it is Saint James, they could allude to his imprisonment, though there are more explicit ways of representing a prison. The stairs, however, do suggest the story of Saint Alexius, as do other elements in the painting that could serve as iconographic attributes: the pilgrim´s dress, which refers to his voyage to Edessa (now Sanliurfa, Turkey), his wanderings through the East and his return to Rome, always begging for alms and going by foot; the staircase in his parents´ house, underneath which he slept for 17 years and that was the place where he died; and, finally, the piece of paper on which he wrote down his life´s story by divine command, which, following his death, only his wife could prise from his hands. All of these elements appear in this painting; indeed, those that do not square up with the iconography of Saint James are perfectly aligned with the story of Saint Alexius. With this reading, Ribera´s image appears to represent Saint Alexius´s last moments as they are reported in Pedro de Ribadeneyra´s Flos Sanctorum, or Lives of the Saints, written between 1599 and 1601: The Lord ... revealed to him the day of his death; and on a piece of paper he wrote down his name, his parents´ and his wife´s, private matters that had transpired between them, as well as the narrative of his life; folding the paper up, he clutched it in his hand. Though some have argued that the hollow space beneath the staircase where Alexius lived cannot be seen in this image, it is also clear that the small fragment of a staircase that is visible does not preclude the possibility that a space large enough for a man might be found beneath it at a point off the edge of the canvas. The date accompanying the signature has typically been read as 1631, but 1637 is a more convincing reading. Though brown tones predominate and light plays an important dramatic role, the colours are particularly rich; the modelling is considerably softer than what we observe in Ribera´s paintings from 1631; and the artist has not exploited the violent chiaroscuro contrasts typical of works from the beginning of the decade. Rather, Ribera has sought to envelop the figure in light, heightening a sense of emotional climax. Furthermore, the saint´s face appears closer in its typology and expression to the faces in Ribera´s works from the second half of the 1630s than to typical examples from around 1631. Although his identification of the saint may now be in some doubt, Friar Francisco de los Santos´s text still provides us with one of the best descriptions of this painting´s character: He carries a book [sic] in one hand and in the other the Staff, and his chest is partially bare. His eyes gaze heavenward with the greatest of spirit. This artist indeed endowed all his works with great spirit (Portús, J.: Portrait of Spain. Masterpieces from the Prado, Queensland Art Gallery-Art Exhibitions Australia, 2012, p. 138).


Technical data

Related artworks

Inventory number
Ribera, Jusepe de, lo Spagnoletto
Saint James the Greater
Height: 202 cm; Width: 146 cm
Royal Collection (Real Monasterio de San Lorenzo, El Escorial, Madrid, 1667-1837).

Bibliography +

Santos, F. de los, Descripción breve del Monasterio de S. Lorenzo del Escorial, Madrid, 1657, pp. fol. 76v.

Ponz, Antonio, Viage de España. Vol. I, Joachin Ibarra, Madrid, 1773, pp. 141.

Viñaza, Cipriano Muñoz y Manzano Conde de, Adiciones al diccionario histórico de los mas ilustres profesores de Bellas Artes en España de D. Juan Agustín Cean Bermúdez, [s.n.], Madrid, 1894, pp. 309.

Trapier, Elizabeth du Gué, Ribera, [Hispanic Society of America], Nueva York, 1952, pp. 215.

Tüngel, Richard, 400 Jahre Kunst, Kultur, und Geschichte im Prado, Schweizer Verlagshaus, Zurich, 1964, pp. 160 / lám. 75.

Ceán Bermúdez, Juan Agustín, Diccionario histórico de los más ilustres profesores de las Bellas Artes en España, Reales Academias de Bellas Artes de San Fernando y de la Historia, Madrid, 1965, pp. 190.

Andrés, Gregorio de, Relación anónima del s. XVII sobre los cuadros del Escorial, Archivo español de arte y arqueología, 44, 1971, pp. 54.

Salas, Xavier de, Museo del Prado. Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1972.

Spinosa, Nicola, La obra pictórica completa de Ribera, Noguer, Barcelona, 1979, pp. 100.

Jusepe de Ribera: lo Spagnoletto, 1591-1652, Washington University Press, Fort Worth, 1982, pp. 150 / lám. 149.

Brown, Jonathan, Mecenas y coleccionistas españoles de Jusepe de Ribera, Goya: Revista de Arte, 183, 1984, pp. 148 / lám. 14.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1985, pp. 550.

Brown, Jonathan, Velázquez: pintor y cortesano, Alianza Editorial, Madrid, 1986, pp. 239.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado: inventario general de pinturas (I) La Colección Real, Museo del Prado, Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1990, pp. nº438.

Benito Domènech, Fernando, Ribera, 1591-1652, Bancaja, Valencia, 1991, pp. 78.

Benito Domènech, Fernando, Ribera, 1591-1652, Bancaja, Valencia, 1991, pp. 79-80.

Pérez Sánchez, Alfonso E., Jusepe de Ribera 1591-1652, Electa, Nápoles, 1992, pp. 177.

Ribera, 1591-1652, Catálogo de la exposición celebrada en Madrid, Museo del Prado, 2 junio-16 agosto 1992, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1992, pp. nº34.

Ribera, 1591-1652, Fundación Social y Cultural Kutxa, San Sebastián, 1993.

Martínez Ripoll, Antonio, 'La pintura barroca española en El Escorial., Actas Simposium El Monasterio del Escorial y la Pintura, San Lorenzo Escorial, 2001, pp. 272.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Pintura barroca española: guía, Museo Nacional del PradoAldeasa, Madrid, 2001, pp. 60.

Spinosa, Nicola, Ribera, Electa, Napoli, 2003, pp. 282.

Milicua, J, 'Jose de Ribera. Santiago el Mayor' En:, Caravaggio y la pintura realista europea, Museu Nacional D'Art de Catalunya, Barcelona, 2005, pp. 250-253 n.60.

Spinosa, Nicola, Ribera: la obra completa, Fundación Arte Hispánico, Madrid, 2008, pp. 383-4 A143.

Portrait of Spain. Masterpieces from The Prado, Queensland Art Gallery, 2012, pp. 138-139, nº30.

Tormo y Monzó, Elías, Ribera, Hijos de J.Thomas, pp. 15.

Other inventories +

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 438.
Ribera. / 438. El Apostol Santiago. / Tiene el codo derecho apoyado sobre el poste de una escalera de piedra, en la mano izquierda el bordon y en la derecha un papirio arrollado. / Alto 7 pies, 3 pulg; ancho 5 pies, 2 pulg, 8 lin.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1872-1907. Núm. 974.
974.- Santiago el Mayor. / Alto 2,02. Ancho 1,46.Lienzo. / En pié y con el codo derecho descansado en un antepecho, remate de una escalera de piedra, carga sobre el brazo el cuerpo con movimiento natural. Tiene en la mano izquierda, levantada, el bordón, y en la otra mano un papel arrollado. Levanta la vista al cielo, y es su vestido un ropaje negro y pardo, que descubre el pecho y el hombro derecho. Rostro blanco, cabello casi negro y barba poco poblada.-Figura de cuerpo entero y tamaño natural. / Este cuadro, procedente de El Escoirial, fue enviado á aquel famoso monasterio...

Inscriptions +

Jusepe de ribera español F / 163 [7]

Exhibitions +

Portrait of Spain. Masterpieces from the Prado
16.12.2012 - 31.03.2013

Portrait of Spain. Masterpieces from the Prado
Houston TX
15.12.2012 - 31.03.2013

Portrait of Spain. Masterpieces from the Prado
22.07.2012 - 04.11.2012

Portrait of Spain. Masterpieces from the Prado
Brisbane, Australia
21.07.2012 - 04.11.2012

Caravaggio y la pintura realista europea
06.10.2005 - 15.01.2006

San Sebastián
24.07.1993 - 05.09.1993

José de Ribera
02.06.1992 - 16.08.1992

José de Ribera
27.02.1992 - 17.05.1992

Location +

Room 009 (On Display)


Displayed objects +

Staff, Pilgrim's

Update date: 26-05-2022 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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