Saint James the Greater is an early work by the Spanish painter Jusepe de Ribera, who worked in Italy. He painted this picture in around 1615/16, towards the end of his stay in Rome. Ribera, who is among the first and most important Caravaggisti, further developed Caravaggio’s revolutionary new art with his own distinctive approach.
Here we come face to face with a monumental half-figure with sculptural presence. The apostle stands in front of a dark wall and is illuminated by a cone of light entering from the top left of the picture. The insignia that is pinned to his robe gleams in the light and serves as another reference to Saint James’s pilgrimage, apart from his pilgrim’s staff. His bright red cloak has a voluminous quality, its folds forming into a range of hills and valleys.
The gentleness of the saint’s inclined head creates a subtle contrast with the power expressed in his physique. This ambivalence between outward appearance and inner epiphany, between presence and rapture identifies the painting as a sophisticated masterpiece in Ribera’s early work.
The Dagmar Westberg Foundation has been a staunch supporter of the Städel Museum since 2000, helping to facilitate new acquisitions, most recently through the donation of an altar by the Antwerp Master of the van Groote Adoration in 2008. To mark her hundredth birthday, Dagmar Westberg, who is a native of Hamburg but chose to make Frankfurt her home, has now acquired this important early work by Jusepe de Ribera for the Städel. In addition to its commitment to the visual arts, her foundation also supports social projects in Frankfurt.