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St. James

late 15th Century
34 3/8 x 16 x 11 in. (87.3 x 40.6 x 27.9 cm)

French artist

French; made in Auxerre, Burgundy?

Object Type: Sculpture
Medium and Support: Limestone, polychromy, traces of gilding
Credit Line: The Marie Adelaide Devine Fund and Thomas H. and Marion J. Hawks Fund
Accession Number: 1994.49
Location: Currently on view
Link to this object

In the Middle Ages, faithful Christians made pilgrimages to sacred sites in Europe and the Holy Land. One of the most important was to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain, dedicated to the Apostle Saint James the Greater. Numerous altars dedicated to Saint James were located in churches along the route, allowing the travelers to pray daily for a successful journey. This statue was originally placed in a niche above such an altar.

Here, Saint James is dressed as a pilgrim, wearing a broad-brimmed, black hat with the image of a scallop shell, a traditional Christian symbol of pilgrimage. He holds the customary staff that supported the pilgrim, giving him strength to overcome the forces of evil and arrive safely at the cathedral. The figure carries a scrip, or alms sack, that is also decorated with the scallop shell. The scrip symbolizes that the pilgrim, trusting in the Lord, carried very little money.

The sculpture retains much of its original coloring; slight traces of gilding can be seen on the edge of the saint’s cloak and the knobs of his staff.

[Gallery label text, June 2013]

Private collection, west of France, said to have been owned by the family for at least two generations; L. P. Bresset et Fils, Paris (dealer); purchased from them by the Gallery in 1994

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