RIBERA, Jusepe de
(b. 1591, Játiva, d. 1652, Napoli)

Martyrdom of St Philip

Oil on canvas, 234 x 234 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

This painting was traditionally considered to represent the martyrdom of St Bartholomew, who was crucified and flayed while alive. Based on the fact that the attribute of the saint, the knife is lacking in the picture, recent research established that the painting represents the martyrdom of St Philip who was one of the first disciples to follow Jesus. He preached the Gospel in Phrygia and died at Hierapolis, first stoned that crucified.

St Philip apostle was Philip IV's patron saint and presumably Ribera painted the canvas upon royal commission. Like Caravaggio in his Crucifixion of St Peter, Ribera contradicts the canonical concept of the heroic martyr who bears his torture with quiet patience and the serene assurance of salvation. Philip, apostle and preacher is portrayed by Ribera as a weak elderly man, whose fear of death and desperation are clearly written in his face. The louts dragging him up by a beam before the eyes of the curious onlookers are concentrating fully on their task. The question of guilt and innocence remains unanswered for the incident is still very much in the present.