(b. 1541, Candia, d. 1614, Toledo)

Apostle St James the Less

Oil on canvas, 97 x 77 cm
Museo de El Greco, Toledo

Apostle St James the Less is generally regarded as the same person as James 'the Lord's brother', mentioned by St Paul (Gal. 1:19), who became the first bishop of Jerusalem. Though 'brother' could here apply to any male relation, it came to be taken in the strict sense and was the source of the tradition that represents Christ and the saint somewhat alike in appearance. This similarity is helpful in identifying St James in scenes such as the Last Supper. It was sometimes given as the reason for the kiss of Judas, because the soldiers then knew which man to arrest. According to early sources James was martyred by being thrown from the roof of the Temple and then stoned and beaten to death. The Golden Legend relates that 'a man in that company took a fuller's staff and smote him on the head, that his brains fell all abroad'.

Apostle St James the Less in Art

James holds a fuller's staff, which may be short- or long-handled, having a clubbed head; or it is shaped like a flat bat. It was once used by the fuller in the process of finishing cloth, to compact the material by beating it. From the early 14th century, especially in German art, he may instead hold a hatter's bow, which was used in the manufacture of felt for hats and by wool-workers to clean wool. It may be shown without a bow-string.

James was the patron saint of hat-makers, mercers and other similar medieval guilds. As bishop of Jerusalem he may wear episcopal robes, with mitre and crozier.

El Greco's painting does not follow thetraditional representations of the Apostle.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.