This striking picture of Saint Andrew was executed by Jusepe de Ribera when the artist was establishing his position as the leading painter in Naples. The city was then at the height of its power, the second largest urban center 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.
Following the 2017 sale (loc. cit.) and the subsequent cleaning campaign of the present painting, which revealed the artist’s characteristically vigorous handling, as well as numerous pentimenti, the attribution to Ribera was confirmed by Professor Nicola Spinosa after first-hand inspection of the picture. Spinosa (private communication) dates the work to around or soon after 1630 and compares it with the artist’s other half-length apostles or philosophers from this period, notably the figure of Democritus (1630; Madrid, Prado), and the celebrated series of Saint Andrew and The Apostolate, painted between 1628-32 and now in the Prado, Madrid.
The inclusion of the fish in this picture holds important symbolic meaning: Saint Andrew and his brother Simon Peter were the first apostles called by Christ to support his ministry with the famous words, 'Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.' Andrew went on to found churches and baptize converts until he suffered martyrdom on an X-shaped cross, which serves as the backdrop to this picture.
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; and another in the Strelenhkie collection in Stockholm. 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 the fish, is also known in various versions, including the one sold at Sotheby's, New York, 7 June 1984, lot 43.