We are grateful to Professor Nicola Spinosa, who, on the basis of photographs, confirms the attribution and dates the picture to the mid-1630s to 1640. We are also grateful to Professor Riccardo Lattuada for his confirmation of the attribution after viewing the picture in the original.
Spinosa's dating of this powerful yet compact painting place it in the artist's maturity when he was based in Naples and working on some of his most important commissions. Works such as the series of Prophets painted for the monastery church of San Martino and the great Martyrdom of Saint Philip (Madrid, Prado) date to these years. Professor Alonso Pérez Sánchez has noted how (The Dictionary of Art, 1998, 26, p. 310), from about 1632 onwards, Ribera employed a generally lighter palette and freer brushwork, showing the influence of Venetian painting as well as in particular that of Rubens and Van Dyck. Both those masters were to produce series of Apostles - Rubens the so-called Apostolado Lerma of about 1610-12 (now in the Prado) and Van Dyck at least two series about a decade later (now dispersed among various museums and collections). It is surely from paintings such as the latter's Saints Peter and Philip (both also on panel), that the present composition ultimately derives (S. Barnes, N. de Poorter, O. Millar and H. Vey, Van Dyck, Yale, 2004, p. 74, nos. I.60-I.61, Private Collection and the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna).
From the same period as the present panel comes Ribera's masterly Diogenes (Gemäldegalerie, Dresden). Signed and dated 1637, the artist there also chooses the unusual format of an oval painted onto a rectangle to achieve the sense of immediacy that is also present in this picture. Similarly, although of smaller composition and lesser dimensions, the present work can be compared in its dramatic intensity and painterly technique to the Saint Paul the Hermit datable to circa 1636, now in the Prado.
In the present panel, the strong tenebristic lighting and powerful naturalistic treatment of the subject of the Saint clutching his small cross and looking heavenward, combine with fluid brushwork to achieve a work of modest dimensions but remarkable impact.