Saint James, who is credited with having brought Christianity to Spain, was passing through the city that subsequently became Zaragoza when he was visited by the Virgin Mary. She presented him with a statuette of herself and a column of jasper on which to place it. The subject is fairly common in Spain, especially in Zaragoza, where the events depicted are said to have taken place and where an enormous basilica (El Pilar) was built to house the statuette.
Bayeu’s painting is indebted to Antonio González Velázquez’s fresco of 1753, in the dome over the central chapel of the basilica of El Pilar. Although of similar subject matter and compositionally related, Bayeu’s painting differs considerably from González Velázquez’s design. Its free handling and bright colours might suggest it is a sketch for a larger painting, but it is more likely to be an independent work of art commissioned by a private patron for devotional purposes.
The painting’s style and colour palette show the influence of the Italian-born artist Corrado Giaquinto, whom Bayeu greatly admired. Giaquinto was active in Madrid from 1753 to 1761 and Bayeu’s painting is signed and dated 1760 on the reverse of the canvas.