The story of the finding of the tomb of the Apostle James is well known by lovers of El Camino, as are the consequences that this finding brought. But, what was of James before all of this? Was he as famous during his lifetime as he was in his death? Western European art has always been entwined with Christian religion, then suddenly remembered that I knew of several works of art depicting the Apostle, so I decided to find some more to try to paint a picture of the most significant events of his life through art.

The order I choose to present the works of art is the approximate chronology of the events they depict, as opposed to the chronology in which the works of art were made. I will show you every work and then a small text that explains a little of it, but if you want to dig deeper click on the link at the end of the paragraph. I hope you enjoy it!

The Miraculous Draught of Fishes

La Pesca Milagrosa (1515-1516), Cartones de Rafael (primer carton). Rafael de Sanzio. Victoria and Albert Museum (Londres).

The Miraculous Draught of Fishes (1515-1516), Raphael Sanzio (Bodycolour over charcoal underdrawing on paper, mounted on canvas). Victoria and Albert Museum (London).

James of Zebedee, his name before he became an Apostle, meets Jesus where some fishermen amongst them James, Peter and John are fishing unsuccessfully in the Sea of Galilee when he tells them to try one more cast of the net, at which they are rewarded with a great catch, at that moment Peter and his brothers became followers of Jesus.

Lucas 5:18-24

Jairus´ Daughter

La resurrección de la hija de Jairo (c. 1546), Paolo Veronese. Museo del Louvre (Paris).

The rising of Jairus´daughter (c.1546), Paolo Veronese. Louvre Museum (Paris).

After crossing to the other shore of the lake with his three new followers Jesus is approached by Jairus, one of the chief men of the synagogue, he had heard about his miracles. Jairus´daughter is very sick so he begged of Jesus to heal her, by the time they reached Jairus´house it was too late, she had already died. Jesus took her hand and told her in Aramaic: “Girl, raise up!” (“Talitha, cumi”) and the girl rose instantly.

Marcos 5:21-43

The Transfiguration

La Transfiguración (1517-1520), Rafael Sanzio. Museos Vaticanos (Ciudad del Vaticano).

The transfiguration (1517-1520), Raphael Sanzio. Vatican Museum (Vatican City).

Some days later Jesus took James, John and Peter to pray to a hill. There, the disciples noticed how Jesus changed his appearance and how his clothes became bright. While he was in that state the prophets Moses and Isaiah appeared next to him. There were no other witnesses to this but the author Raphael depicted a crowd unsuccessfully trying to heal a sick boy, but it is ultimately Jesus who does the miracle.

San Lucas 9:28-36

The last supper

La Última Cena (1495-1497), Leonardo da Vinci. Iglesia de Santa María delle Grazie (Milán) .

The last supper (1495-1497), Leonardo da Vinci. Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie (Milano).

The last supper is the first episode of the Passion of the Christ. It is perhaps one of the most famous scenes of the life of Jesus, probably helped by the fame of the mural painting by da Vinci. As a curiosity, the mural painting is a technique that requires the ability of a quick brush, da Vinci, apparently was not that used to this technique.  Maybe that is why he decided to use tempera and oil over plaster, so he could afford to paint a bit more slowly. However oil over plaster did not work very well, which caused him various technical problems and also a premature deterioration of the mural painting.

Lucas 22:7-20

At prayer on Mount Olivet

Oración en el Huerto de los Olivos (c. 1460), Andrea Mantegna. National Gallery (Londres).

The agony in the garden (c. 1460), Andrea Mantegna. National Gallery (London).

After the last supper Jesus, accompanied by his first three disciples, walks to the Mount Olivet, a place he often used to pray. Already knowing of his imminent fate, Jesus invited the disciples to pray with him, but they soon fell asleep. Mantegna represents this scene masterly, with the depiction of the tumult occurring in the background. The artist particular way of using the foreshortening perspective and the monumentality of his buildings are his particular signature. .

San Lucas 22:39-46

The arrest of Jesus

Prendimiento de Jesús (1302-1305), Giotto. Capilla Scrovegni (Padua).

The arrest of Jesus (1302-1305), Giotto. Scrovegni Chapel (Padua).

As you could see coming from the last scene, the next episode in which James is present is the arrest. Jesus is identified by Judas with a kiss and the Temple guards arrest him. Giotto, the earliest artist in our list, was a key artist in the history of  western European art. At the time the art world was dominated by the so called “maniera greca”, but Giotto re-introduced the art from the point of view of the observation of nature and it revolutionised the forms of representation. The next logical step in art was the Renaissance.

Mateo 26:47-56, Lucas22:47-53, Juan 18:2-11


La cena de Emaús (c. 1596-1602), Caravaggio. National Gallery (Londres).

Supper at Emmaus (c. 1596-1602), Caravaggio. National Gallery (London).

After the crucifixion, death and resurrection, Jesus, on the way to the hamlet of Emmaus, finds Cleophas and James, two of his disciples, that at first did not recognise him. Once in Emmaus they go to an inn where they stop for supper, and it is here that Jesus reveals his identity while he breaks the bread, he is recognised by one of his gestures and then disappears. Caravaggio, precursor or Baroque painting and Tenebrism, captures masterly the moment of the revelation, where the surprise on the faces of the disciples is in contrast with the anodyne face of the innkeeper, who does not understand what is happening.   

Lucas 24:13-35


Pentecostés (1612-1614), Juan Bautista Maino. Museo del Prado (Madrid).

Pentecost (1612-1614), Juan Bautista Maino. Museo del Prado (Madrid).

Pentecost is a celebration of the Jewish tradition, but in Christianity it has a different meaning, it is on the fiftieth day after Easter Sunday. During the last supper Jesus promised the disciples that he would send the Holy Spirit to be with them forever, so fifty days after the resurrection, when all of them had gathered with Mary, the Holy Spirit appeared and gives everyone of them the ability to speak a different language (allegedly to make easier the task of spreading the gospel). Since this moment the Holy Spirit is recognised as the guide of the church.

Hechos 2:1-41

The Apparition of Our lady of the Pillar

Aparición de la Virgen del Pilar a Santiago y sus discipulos zaragozanos (1768-1769), Francisco de Goya. Colección privada.

The Apparition of our lady of the pillar to Saint James and his disciples from Zargoza (1768-1769), Francisco de Goya. Private collection.

According to the Christian tradition, before Mary had visited Caesaraugusta (currently Zaragoza), she left a jasper pillar as a testimony of her visit, this column was afterwards known as “el pilar”, the pillar. It was on this column that Mary appeared to St. James and his disciples to announce her imminent death. The painting is an early work of Goya, this painting lacks many of the characteristics that later made Goya a famous painter.

More info.

The Martyrdom of St. Jame

Martirio de Santiago (c. 1640), Francisco de Zurbarán. Museo del Prado (Madrid)

The Martyrdom of St. James (1640), Francisco de Zurbarán. Prado Museum (Madrid)

After the apparition of our lady and after delivering the message of her imminent premature death, Saint James says his farewell to her and to his brother John and leaves for Jerusalem. Once there, Herod Agrippa had already started a persecution against Christians. Saint James gets arrested and forced to renounce his faith, but he refuses. He is then taken to the Mount Calvary where he suffers his martyrdom (which by the way is the only one mentioned in the Facts of the Apostles).

Hechos 12:2

After his martyrdom, his corpse is taken in a stone boat through the Mediterranean and then via the Atlantic until it reached Galicia and then he found burial in Iria Flavia, there he was undisturbed until it was found in the year 800 A.D. by the bishop Teodomiro.

Header photo: James the Elder (c.1634), José de Ribera. Museo Bellas Artes Seville.
Translation: Elvira Sánchez.
All the images published in this post are from Wikipedia, they are under the rights of Creative Commons and are therefore of public domain.


About Author

Sergio De Arriba

Graduado en Historia del Arte, trabajo como Gestor de Contenido Cultural y arquitecto de rutas en VOJO, aunque de vez en cuando también realizo vídeos corporativos e ilustraciones. En este blog mi intención es mostraros el Arte de la forma más atractiva y sencilla posible, alejándome de descripciones complejas pero sin olvidar los métodos científicos que acompañan a la teoría artística.

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