Saint Andrew - a fragment
oil on canvas, unframed
2814 x 25 in. (71.8 x 63.5 cm.)
Dr. Branko Ilić (1889-1966), Serbia, and by inheritance to his wife, from whom acquired by the present owner.
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Lot Essay

Professor Nicola Spinosa has described the present picture as the prototype of this composition, which until today was only known through versions of varying quality, with the artist's strikingly robust depiction of Saint Andrew here a marvellous example of the technical skill, expert modelling and lively brushwork that helped make Jusepe de Ribera the leading Baroque painter in seventeenth-century Naples.

The artist executed this work at a time when he was establishing his position as the leading painter in Naples. The city was then at the height of its power, the second largest urban centre in Europe, alive with artistic creativity and a destination for painters from the rest of the continent. In this landscape, which was at times unsparingly competitive, Ribera dominated. He executed highly important commissions for the ruling Spanish viceroys and provided pictures for a burgeoning market of local and foreign patrons, drawn to his dramatic, magnetic naturalism. In this prolific period of activity, Ribera covered a range of subject matter with startling originality and virtuosity. He produced the renowned series of philosophers for the Duke of Alcalà, together with many images of saints, in states penitence and ecstasy. The need to make pictures that reinforced the teachings of the Counter Reformation, by focusing the viewer on individual characters from the Bible, was reaffirmed by Cardinal Federico Borromeo’s De Pictura Sacra, published in 1624. Ribera, perhaps more than any other artist of the era, excelled in producing works of such spiritual depth, typified here in this picture through the saint’s emotive expression.

Versions after Ribera's original include one formerly in the Fangi collection in Milan and now in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Narbonne; another recorded in the collection of Ernst von Schoen-Wildenegg in Berlin in 1925; another in the Strelenhkie collection in Stockholm; and one sold at Christie's, New York, 29 October 2019, lot 719. A variant, in which the general pose and head of the saint remain unchanged, but in which the right arm is drawn across his breast and the left hand holds afish, is also known in various versions, including the one sold at Sotheby's, New York, 7 June 1984, lot 43.
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