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The Martyrdom of Saint Philip
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

The Martyrdom of Saint Philip

1639. Oil on canvas.
Room 009

According to sources from antiquity and The Golden Legend (a 13th-century book that narrates the lives of saints), the apostle Philip preached the Gospel in Scythia and was crucified in the city of Hierapolis. His martyrdom has rarely been represented -the best known depiction is Filippino Lippi’s (1457-1504) fresco at the Strozzi Chapel in the Florentine church of Santa Maria Novella- but it usually shows him tied, rather than nailed, to the cross. The present work was long classified as a martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew, the apostle who was skinned alive, but in 1953, U.S. art historian Delphine Fitz Derby pointed out its true subject. Painted on an epic scale, with possibly larger-than-life figures, the canvas presents the martyrdom as an impressive religious and human tragedy. Saint Philip’s long limbs are extended as he turns his face to the heavens in an anguished petition for divine succor. The heavens do not open, however, nor is there a chorus of angels; for Ribera, martyrdom is an essentially earthly spectacle. Saint Philip is not depicted as eighty-seven years old, as his hagiographers described him, but instead as a powerfully built, middle-aged man. His ordinary features, suntanned face, short hair and mustache reveal that, like the model used by Ribera, he was of humble origin. The artist very theatrically contrasts the saint’s resignation with the vigorous physical efforts of the two henchmen pulling on the rope to raise the cross’s horizontal bar. A third one tries to hold Saint Philip by the leg, and bystanders gather to witness his cruel fate, some pityingly, others with indifference. This work epitomizes Ribera’s depictions of martyrdom: tenebrous and concentrated, unyielding in its representation of suffering and implacable in its imitation of worn and aged flesh. At the same time, the low viewpoint reveals a vast and beautiful blue sky, and Ribera offers a fascinating demonstration of painterly skill in his use of rich, saturated tones and his masterful handling of the paint, from the thick impastos on the saint’s flesh to the vibrant transparencies of the background figures. The work was painted in 1639, when the viceroy of Naples was the II Duke of Medina de las Torres (1637-1644). Medina was an enthusiastic client of Ribera and may well have commissioned this work, probably as a gift to king Philip IV. Philip was the patron saint of both the king and the duke, whose compete name was Ramiro Felipe Núñez de Guzmán. The work does not appear in the inventory of the Duke of Medina’s collection (drawn up in 1669), and its first listing is at Madrid’s Alcázar Palace in 1666, where it is describe as: 3 rods long and 3 high [249 x 249 cm] gilded frame of someone being tormented, by Jusepe de Ribera 300 silver ducats. Despite the fact that it hung in one of the main halls, where the king gave audience, and was appraised at a high price, just one generation was enough for its subject to have been forgotten.

Museo Nacional del Prado, 100 obras maestras: del Museo del Prado, Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2008, p.116


Technical data

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Inventory number
Ribera, Jusepe de, lo Spagnoletto
The Martyrdom of Saint Philip
Height: 234 cm; Width: 234 cm
Royal Collection (Royal Palace of El Buen Retiro, Madrid, “pinturas recogidas de las Casas Arzobispales”, 1747, n. 808; New Royal Palace, Madrid, “pieza de vestir [2ª]”, 1794, n. 808; Royal Palace, Madrid, “[1ª] pieza de vestir”, 1814-1818, s.n.)

Bibliography +

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Other inventories +

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1910. Núm. 1101.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1942-1996. Núm. 1101.

Museo Real de Pinturas a la muerte de Fernando VII, 1834. Núm. 3.
INVENTARIO GENERAL DE LOS CUADROS DE S.M. EXISTENTES EN LA GALERÍA DEL REAL MUSEO [...] SALÓN 1º [...] [Fol. 407r] Tres. El Martirio de San Bartolomé / de José Rivera / Lº / 100.720

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 42.
Ribera (Jose) / 42. Martirio de san Bartolome en la Armenia mayor. / Dos tradiciones hay sobre la muerte que sufrio el apostol. Segun el obispo Aquilino y otros historiadores sagrados, Arteages hermano del rey Polemon, le mando desollar vivo y cortar la cabeza; segun otros, fue crucificado cabeza abajo como san Pedro. / En el cuadro solo se ve que el santo tiene las manos atadas a un travesaño movible, y que dos sayones procuran levantarlo en alto. Otros sayones rodean el grupo principal, y a lo lejos hay gentío que contempla el martirio. (C.L.) / Alto 8 pies, 5 pulg; ancho 8 pies, 5 pulg

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1854-1858. Núm. 42.

Inv. Felipe V, Buen Retiro, 1747. Núm. 808.
PINTURAS ENTREGADAS en dichas Casas Arzobispales a don Santiago de Bonavia [...] {11358} 808 / Otro de tres varas y tres quartas en quadro del martirio de san Bartolomé original de Ribera en nueve mil reales

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos III, Palacio Nuevo, 1794. Núm. 808.
Pieza de bestir [...] {109} 808 / Dos varas y tres quartas en cuadro: El Martirio de Sn. Bartolome. Rivera: en ... 60.000

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1872-1907. Núm. 989.

Inv. Fernando VII, Palacio Nuevo, 1814-1818. Núm. s. n..
[1ª] Pieza de vestir [...] {21205} Tres varas en quadro Martirio de San Bartolome = Ribera

Inscriptions +

Jusepe de Ribera español / 1639
Inscribed in black. Front, lower right corner

Inscribed in gray. Front, lower left corner

Exhibitions +

06.06.2020 - 25.07.2021

José de Ribera
Nueva York NY
15.09.1992 - 29.11.1992

José de Ribera
02.06.1992 - 16.08.1992

José de Ribera
27.02.1992 - 17.05.1992

Location +

Room 009 (On Display)

Update date: 09-04-2022 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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