By 1632, Ribera had been resident in the city of Naples for over fifteen years, and had securely established his reputation as the most important painter active in the city. He had, for example, enjoyed the protection of three successive Viceroys, the 3rd Duque de Osuna, the 3rd Duque de Alcalá, and the 6th Conde de Monterrey. For the second of these, Don Fernando Afán de Ribera y Enríquez (1570-1637) who was Viceroy between 1629 and 1631, he painted a famous series of Philosophers in 1630 (now dispersed)1 as well as his celebrated Bearded Woman painted the following year and now in Toledo, Palacio Lerma.2 While most of his works up to this point maintained Ribera's adherence to his earlier tenebrist style, by the early 1630s his work had begun to adopt a lighter palette, suggesting some study of Venetian works during his trips to Rome, or that he must have studied the works of Rubens and Van Dyck in the collections of the nobility and the Flemish community in Naples.
This canvas shows all the hallmarks of the style that had brought Ribera such renown by the beginning of the 1630s. The choice of ordinary men as models for his series of Saints and Apostles brought an immediacy to his paintings that evidently struck a chord with his contemporaries. It was reinforced by the intense realism and immediacy of his handling of paint, and this veracity lends his pictures of this type a powerful dignity. James is shown here as an Apostle, holding the sword that is symbolic of his martyrdom. He is shown as a simple bearded man of middling years, whose gaze immediately engages the viewer. The brushwork is vivid, with the saint's hair and forehead rendered in lush thick bristled strokes of the brush. Such was the popularity of paintings of this type that Ribera returned to theme on several occasions. As Spinosa observes, the present work can be compared with a group of other depictions of Saint Paul and Saint James painted at a very similar date. The most closely related work would seem to be another portrayal of Saint Paul, this time at three-quarter length, which is signed and dated to the same year, 1632, and today in the collection of the Hispanic Society of America in New York, and in which the model for the saint is very similar.3 Spinosa also draws parallels, for example, between the present canvas and the Saint James today in the Museo de Bellas Artes in Seville, in which the saint is shown standing at half-length and clasping a book, versions of which autograph replicas are recorded in Rome, Galleria Corsini, and Munich, Alte Pinakothek.4 Both this and another Saint James, today in the Prado in Madrid, depict the Saint as pilgrim, holding his staff and in the case of the latter wearing a scallop shell as his particular attribute.
1. Now divided between New York (Private Collection and formerly Gallery Corsini), Amiens, Musée de Picardie and Madrid, Prado.
2. Exhibited, Naples, Castel SAnt'Elmo, Jusepe di Ribera 1591-1652, 1992, cat no. 1.40, reproduced.
3. N. Spinosa, Ribera: l'opera completa, Naples 2003, p. 284, cat no. A112
4. Spinosa, 2003, p. 288, cat no. A125
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