Within Spanish painting an iconographic genre took hold at the end of the Middle Ages which was named “Apostolado”, a representation of the 12 Apostles with their attributes and which in the version by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo here on show in the Pilotta exemplifies one of its rarest and most intense versions.
Such a typology, which received considerable impetus at the time of the reformation to reinforce religious beliefs and Catholic dogma, resulted, through the plethora of single attributes, in conferring a sacred archetype to the division of feudal society into corporations, as can be seen in this series from the ‘600. All the same size, the Apostles are represented realistically in half bust each with his appropriate symbol: St Peter with the keys, St Paul with the sword, St Andrew with the Cross which carries his name, St James the Elder with the shell and pilgrim’s hat, St John the Evangelist with the cup shaped chalice, St Thomas with the lance, St James the younger with the club shaped staff, St Philip with the Cross, St Bartholemew with the knife, St Judas Thaddeus with the set square, St Simon with the saw and St Matthew with the halberd.
The figures are slightly haloed and have an air of serenity as they emerge against a neutral background while the clothes, modelled on a range of warm tones and counterpoint, endow them with a certain impressiveness.
Another significant example of the quality reached by Spanish painting in the XVII century is the image of Job sitting with his eyes turned to heaven, one hand on his breast and the other holding a piece of tile, his symbol, caught in a moment of deep meditation and mystic engrossment. The sobriety of the composition, the chromatic choice based on ochre tones against a neutral background, allow the emaciated figure of the old man to stand out, intensifying the dramatic nature of this scene of intense expressive strength.