Saint James the Greater
Attributed to Dieric Bouts
Second half of 15th century
Oil painting on oak
From the Socorro Church, Funchal
107 cm (H) x 42 cm (W)
As there was no painting of St. James the Lesser, proper, this painting of Saint James the Greater probably came to the Funchal Cathedral from the chapel of Our Lady of the Pebbles (Calhau), to represent the patron saint of Funchal, who was chosen after the plague that spread throughout the city in 1521. The painting began to be venerated in the Santiago (St. James's) Church, and after its ruin, in the Church of Socorro, where it remained until its rediscovery in 1940.
The painting is attributed to Dieric Bouts1, a painter born in Haarlem between 1410 and 1420. In 1447-1448 he moved to Leuven, where he died in 1475. He was influenced by Petrus Cristus and especially Roger van der Weyden. It has also been suggested that this was the work of an artist who continued his work, such as the so-called Master of the Passion of Christ.
The Saint is shown standing, holding the volume of the New Law in his right hand, and in his left, the staff of a pilgrim. He is wearing a magnificently modelled red tunic, and the tip of his right foot is showing. The face has a serene expression, similar, for example, to the Imago Salvatoris Coronati, in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.
The background is filled with a subtle and stripped landscape, and in the foreground there are some plants and flowers of perfect botanical rigour that stand out. The whole composition must be similar to the folio of the breviary of Mayer van der Berg, which also includes in the background the representation of the Battle of Clavijo, in which the apostle Saint James the Greater helped the Christians rout the Moors.
1 Arte Flamenga, Museu de Arte Sacra do Funchal, Luiza Clode e Fernando António Baptista Pereira, EDICARTE, 1997, p. 26.