Jusepe de Ribera, called lo Spagnoletto (Xátiva 1591–1652 Naples)
Throughout his career, Ribera painted bust-length and closely cropped Apostles that count amongst the most notable achievements of Neapolitan baroque art. Noteworthy for its high quality of execution and beautifully preserved passages of impasto paint, this powerful Saint Paul dates to the latter part of Ribera´s life and illustrates perfectly the type of direct portrayal for which the artist was justly celebrated.
The work has benefitted from a recent cleaning, which has revelaed the high quality of execution and the autograoph status of the work, which had hitherto only been known in an uncleaned state to Nicola Spinosa, who attributed it to the studio of the artist.
Here, the Saint Paul is depicted full-face, looking resolutely out at the viewer. He leans on a sword, symbol of his martyrdom. The decision to eschew idealised figures in favor of using ordinary men as models for his Apostles lends a sense of immediacy to Ribera´s paintings that clearly met with the approval of his contemporaries. This aspect, as in the present work, is augmented by an intense realism and striking handling of paint which imbue his Apostles with a sense of grandeur and dignity.
Part of Ribera´s artistic reputation rested on his unrivalled technical skill, manifesting itself, amongst other things, in his ability to enliven the features of his models with rich and vigorous impasto strokes and highlights, particularly noticable here across Saint Paul´s, forehead and around the eyes. The lighter palette, discernible in the light red cloak and pinkish hues of the skin, are typical of the second half of Ribera´s career, and possibly reflect his study of the works of Rubens and Van Dyck, which woud have been visble to him in the collections of the neapolitan nobility. All of these aspects, combined with the fine state of preservation, lends Saint Paul a marked vivacity which the Apostle has retained to this day.
"European Works of Art and Sculpture, Old Master Paintings"