A major new acquisition at the Städel Museum – ‘Saint James the Greater’ – is an early work by the painter Jusepe de Ribera, who originally came from Spain but worked in Italy. He painted this picture 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 an almost 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. In his right hand he is holding his attribute, the long pilgrim’s staff, while in his left he clasps a book. The insignia pinned to his robe gleams in the light and serves as another reference to the saint’s pilgrimage. His bright red cloak has a voluminous quality, its folds forming into a beautifully shaped range of hills and valleys. Yet the distinctive style of Ribera’s art shows itself in the way the visual impact of the cloak is in turn offset by the figure itself. James’ head is inclined to the side and it is this feature which brings into play yet another facet of the saint. The gentleness of his face creates a subtle contrast to the power expressed in his physique. This ambivalence between outward appearance and inner epiphany, between presence and rapture identifies the painting as a carefully considered masterpiece, a sophisticated example of 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.