Lot 101
  • 101

Leonard Bramer Delft 1596 - 1674

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  • Leonard Bramer
  • Saint James and Hermogenes the Magician
  • oil on slate


Private Collection, U.S.A., from whom purchased by Noortman Master Paintings.

Catalogue Note

Depictions of the legend of St. James and Hermogenes are rare in Dutch art, yet Bramer is known to have represented scenes from this story (which is told in Jacobus de Voragine's Golden Legend) at least twice.  In both cases, the artist chose unusual supports for his compositions: the present picture is painted on slate, while the second, which hangs in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux, is painted on copper.  Another Northern artist who chose this theme is Peter Bruegel the Elder, who represented the same protagonists in a print of 1565 (illustrated in A. Klein, The Graphic Worlds of Peter Bruegel the Elder, New York 1963, p. 259-260, no. 57). 

The Golden Legend is a seminal Medieval text, written circa 1260, recounting the lives of the Saints as they were then known.  In the fourth volume, Jacopo de Voragine offers a detailed account of the life of St James the Greater, including the story of his encounter with a Judean sorcerer, with whom he entered a fierce battle in order to measure and compare their respective powers.  At the end of the story, the magician accepts the superiority of God's power and was baptized by the apostle.

In this painting, the dark support is particularly well suited for the representation of a night scene, in which Bramer specialized from the beginning of his career in Italy, where he was known as Leonardo delle notti.  It was also in Italy that Bramer began to use a much broader range of supports and techniques.  As in many of his other nocturnal scenes painted on slate, Bramer left the surface almost entirely bare.  He modelled his figures by highlighting the elements cast in light.

The iconography of this picture is startling. The artist elaborated greatly on the literary source for this painting.  Saint James is seated on the left, above the skeletal figure of death, and as he gazes up to a heavenly opening in the night sky, he is attacked by an army of monsters conjured by the bearded magician below. This type of imagery represents the fascination that supernatural phenomena exercized on Bramer, who often favored such eerie themes and modes of representation, to which this subject is particularly well suited.