Sunday, June 26, 2011


Title: Apostle James the Greater
Artist: Antonio Veneziano
Medium: Tempera on poplar panel
Size: 51 x 33 cm
Date: c. 1384
Location: Staatliche Museen, Berlin.


The Apostle St James the Greater was the son of Zebedee and Salome, and the brother of John the Evangelist. Originally they were fishermen, and fished with their father in the Lake of Genesareth. In the Gospels the two brothers are often called after their father "the sons of Zebedee", and received from Christ the honorable title of Boanerges, "sons of thunder" (Mark 3:17). James the son of Zebedee is styled "the Greater" to distinguish him from the Apostle James "the Less", the son of Alphaeus. The fact that the name of James almost occurs always before that of his brother seems to imply that James was the elder of the two. According to Acts 12:1-2, on the occasion of the Passover of A.D. 44, Herod Agrippa perpetrated cruelties upon the Church, whose rapid growth incensed the Jews: "He killed James, the brother of John, with the sword."

When Venetian artists began to break away from the grip of Byzantium, Antonio Veneziano was among the first to lead the way. He was popular in Siena, Florence, and Pisa, all gave him important commissions. This panel, part of a polyptych and representing St James the Great, shows the artist at his best. The tension of the strongly defined sculptural volume of the figure plays against the flat, linear surface is characteristic of Veneziano’s panels. The saint’s face, too, has flair associated with the artist. The long straight nose with the hint of a bulb at the tip; the sharply defined eye sockets and the hard outline of the eyes; the strongly modeled face; the heavy chin; the lips pressed together dimpled at the corners. All signs of an artist transcending restrictive traditions.

Antonio Veneziano (Antonio the Venetian, c. 1310 – 1384) was an Italian painter who was reported to have been a student of Taddeo Gaddi. He was born apparently in Venice, although it is also supposed that he was born in Florence and acquired the name Veneziano due to a long residence there where he executed several works in the Ducal palace. He was active in Siena, Florence and Pisa, documented between 1369 and 1419, having produced a series of paintings, including frescoes in two chapels, for Siena Cathedral (all untraced). His style was less dry and formal than the generality of many of his contemporaries, and he is said to have carried fresco-painting to a higher degree of perfection than it had attained previous to the period at which he lived.

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