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

The Martyrdom of St Andrew

Oil on canvas, 206 x 178 cm
Szépművészeti Múzeum, Budapest

The Apostle St Andrew, Peter's brother, preached to the Scythians, that is the inhabitants of the region around the Black Sea; in this way he became the apostle of Byzantium and later of the Russian Empire. According to medieval legend he was crucified on two beams joined together in the form of an X; thus what has come to be known as the cross of St Andrew found its way into the nag of the Tsars' army and also the Union Jack.

In this painting, as in his most famous picture, The Martyrdom of St Bartholomew now in Madrid, Ribera chose the most dramatic moment of the cruel event: the moment before the crucifixion when the saint still had the chance to choose between apostasy and martyrdom. In dim, cave-like surroundings, the saint is depicted in silent debate with a priest who holds up a pagan idol. The body of St Andrew is strongly illuminated in contrast to the rest of the picture thus emphasizing the saint's decision; this is primarily conveyed, not by the expression on his face, but by the convulsive tension of the muscles of his enfeebled body, the involuntary movements of a man who in his mind is resigned to death: he throws back his arms to assist his executioners.