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Jusepe de Ribera, An Apostle

Key facts
Full title An Apostle
Artist Jusepe de Ribera
Artist dates 1591 - 1652
Date made about 1615-19
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 62 × 49.5 cm
Acquisition credit Presented anonymously, 1999
Inventory number NG6577
Location Room 30
Collection Main Collection
An Apostle
Jusepe de Ribera

This painting probably belonged to a series of Apostles and represents either Saint Thomas or Saint Matthias, both of whose attribute is a spear. Ribera painted several such series throughout his career – the most complete, dating from around 1630, is in the Museo del Prado, Madrid. Apostle series were common in Europe from the sixteenth century, and Ribera may have referred to those by his predecessor El Greco.

The style suggests this is a youthful work. At least five other apostles, in the same bust-length format and similarly dated, are known. Ribera uses a very limited colour range in this painting and the paint is thickly applied, particularly evident in the highlights on the apostle’s forehead. His lined, ruddy complexion contrasts with the softness of his beard, and the gritty realism of the hand and dirty fingernails is typical of Ribera’s work. The apostle is imbued with astonishing humanity – Ribera must have based him on a real man – and he fixes his eyes on us with an arresting gaze.

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