Jusepe de Ribera was born at Jativa (Valencia) where records show that he was baptized on 17 February 1591. Some time around 1610 he made a journey to Northern Italy and sojourned in Lombardy and Emilia, and passed through Parma and Bologna. In 1613 he reached Rome where he met the physician and art lover, Giulio Mancini who in his Considerazioni sulla pittura provided a lively portrait of the artist’s exuberant and nonconformist character. In Rome, Ribera applied to the Accademia di San Luca. Then, in 1616 he suddenly fled to Naples – perhaps to escape from his creditors, and it was in the capital of the Spanish vice-royalty that he did all his work. Shortly after his arrival in Naples he married Caterina Azzolino, daughter of the Sicilian artist Giovan Bernardo who had already been working in Naples for many years. Between 1621 and 1624 Ribera did many paintings for the duchess of Osuna, for the duke of Alcalà, the Spanish Ambassador and for prince Marcantonio Doria. In 1625 he was visited by José Martinez with whom he discussed his penchant for the art of antiquity, the masters of the Italian Renaissance and his relationships with the artistic world in Spain. In January 1626 he went to Rome to receive the cross of the knights of the Ordine di Cristo in St. Peter’s Basilica. After a visit from Velasquez in 1639 Ribera’s fame spread to the court of Philip IV, and to the Spanish nobility and clergy. He was working frenetically, he painted for the king of Spain (1631-1632) and for the church of Las Agustinas Descalzas in Salamanca (1634-1636). In 1636 count Karl Felisberg of Liechtenstein commissioned him to do twelve portraits of the Ancient Philosophers for his library. In 1637 he signed a contract for several paintings for the Charterhouse of San Martino in Naples, but he only delivered the last painting in 1651. In 1647 when Domenichino died, Lo Spagnoletto [the little Spaniard], as Ribera was known, was called to complete the decorations in the chapel of San Gennaro in the Naples cathedral that the Bolognese painter had left unfinished. The Masaniello revolt (1647-1648) may have briefly interrupted this period of intensive work. Ribera took refuge in the royal palace in Naples where he remained until the arrival of Johann of Austria, the new viceroy and who became his protector. In 1651 he completed the Last Supper for the charterhouse of San Martino, about fourteen years after he had signed the original contract. Ribera’s life ended on 3 September 1552, he was buried in the church of Santa Maria del Porto at Mergellina.
This canvas is one of the cycle of the Allegory of the Five Senses, and obviously, portrays the sense of Touch. It was first mentioned by Giulio Mancini in 1620-1621 along with the four other paintings. It portrays an old, blind artist studying a marble bust of a young man with his hands. One of the first of the artist’s works mentioned in Rome, it has bears a great similarity to his early Neapolitan paintings because of the strong naturalistic accentuation and the clear influence of Caravaggio’s style.
Saint Peter and Saint Paul
This canvas portrays the apostles, Peter and Paul, with their traditional attributes, the keys and the sword. They are engaged in discussion of a biblical passage that is in the middle of the picture, on the scroll in Paul’s hand. The painting is signed on the box that serves as a table Josephus Ribera Hispanus Valen/tinus Civitatis Setabis Aca/demicus Romanus, and was probably done towards the end of his stay in Rome or soon after he arrived in Naples. Ribera was a member of the Accademia di San Luca from at least 1616, the year this canvas is dated, and that is close to the Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the Quadreria dei Girolamini in Naples, even though some sources have dated it 1620.
The Drunken Silenus
This painting is signed and dated with the title of a member of the Accademia di San Luca, on a scroll torn by a snake in the left corner. Silenus an ancient Greek rural god is portrayed nude and reclining as his wine is poured into a seashell. His father, Pan, is behind him, while on the left a youth with elf’s ears holds the bridle of a braying donkey. Probably based on a drawing by Annibale Caracci for a silver tray in the Palazzo Farnese collection now in the Museo di Capodimonte, we can add other ancient and modern iconographic sources observed during his Roman sojourn. This painting has also been interpreted as the coronation of Silenus in the presence of Apollo (the figure with the classic profile just behind Pan) or as a portrayal of the Bacchanal as described in Ovid’s Festivals. This painting is considered the masterpiece of the artist’s early mature period, where Caravaggio’s influence is cleverly modified into a personal language.Iconography
Deposition of Christ
The bloodless body of Christ that stands out against the white shroud is laying on an oblique tombstone. Violently illuminated from the left, the figure contrasts with the dark background where we can see the observers of this holy event: Mary, grief-stricken and with her head bowed, barely emerges from the darkness. Displayed during the eighteenth century in cardinal Valenti Gonzaga’s Roman gallery, it was later purchased by Napoleon III. It is one of Ribera’s most famous paintings and was frequently copied by many great artists, including Eduard Manet.
Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew
The field of the composition is filled by the large, semi-nude Saint Bartholomew who traverses the entire canvas. Perfectly foreshortened with legs crossed and arms opened, the saint is the only figure that emerges from the swarming dark background that is powerfully illuminated by a divine light. On the right, the man sharpening the knives grimaces at the viewer as if he were sadistically enjoying the macabre martyrdom that was inflicted on the saint because he refused to worship the pagan gods. They are symbolized by the classic marble head that is lying there, near the saint. Ribera did this painting at the time he was closest to Caravaggio’s style as we can see from the saint’s diagonally positioned body which is based on the Crucifixion of Saint Peter and the Martyrdom of Saint Matthew as well as the strong chiaroscuro contrast.Iconography
It was the viceroy of Naples, the duke of Alcalà who commissioned Ribera to do this painting. The duke collected evidence of natural deformities and was struck by the unusual case of Maddalena Ventura, a young woman from the Abruzzo region who, at the age of 37, developed a heavy beard. She is portrayed with her husband and the last of her three children with whom she moved to Naples when she was over fifty. In spite of the almost repulsive nature of the subject’s problem, Ribera succeeded in creating a portrait of extraordinary introspective depth. The language is very close to Caravaggio and the dark background reveals a group of objects, such as the spindle, that relate to domestic tasks in an obvious contrast with the woman’s appearance.
This painting is considered a fundamental chapter in the definition of the artist’s more airy, luminous and pictorial phase, immersed in a triumphal atmosphere that is quite different from his earlier, and darker output. This signed and dated painting was commissioned by the count of Monterrey, Viceroy of Naples from 1631 to 1637 for the church of the Augustinians of Monterrey at Salamanca. The high alter in the church was ordered from Cosimo Fanzago in November 1633. The probable starting point for this painting could well have been Lanfranco’s painting of the same subject for the Roman church of the Capuchins that was destroyed in a fire in 1813 but is still known through copies and drawings. If Ribera did not see the painting in Rome where he may have been during that period, he probably did have an opportunity to see the preparatory drawings that Lanfranco had brought to Naples in 1634 when he settled there. In Ribera’s painting, especially in the two adolescent angels on the sides, we can clearly see the influence of Guido Reni, whom he knew in Rome. From the thematic standpoint, Ribera followed the traditional iconography codified by Pacheco, the Virgin Mary is dressed in white with a blue cloak, and the attributes of the litany are visible in the landscape and in the hands of the choir of angels.
According to legend Mary Magdalene was portrayed, later in life, while meditating in a grotto at Sainte-Baume in France. This is the iconography that Ribera selected, in accord with the many versions of this theme painted in Caravaggio’s circle. Even though it was painted around 1640, the canvas shows that Ribera was distancing himself from the “dark” manner in spite of the strong chiaroscuro that highlights the face, white hands, and tawny hair. The greater attention to chromatics reveals the influence that the Neo-Venetian style and Van Dyck had on Neapolitan paintings throughout the following decade.Iconography
The Club-Footed Boy
Probably done for Don Ramiro Felipe de Guzmàn, Viceroy of Naples from 1637 to 1644, this painting is a full-length portrait of a small, beggar boy with a club-foot that he displays in the foreground. Next to his cane, he points to a scroll with the words. Da mihi elimo sinam propter amorem Dei (Give me alms for the love of God). The simplicity of the composition, the almost monochrome tones, the lowered viewpoint give the painting a dignity that should not be interpreted as a caricature, but rather as the portrayal of an exemplum. The boy is smiling in spite of his wretched condition and his state of mind is emphasized by the broad blue sky. Thus he incarnates the theme of mercy to the poor as a source of salvation for the believer.
Saint Simeon with the Child
The balanced composition and the wise use of diffused and embracing light place this painting in Ribera’s later period. Saint Simeon, a pious man to whom it had been disclosed that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah is portrayed according to the traditional iconography as a high priest holding the Infant Jesus in his arms during the presentation in the temple. The saint, dressed in priest’s vestments and bathed in a light that creates vibrant luminous effects, contrasting with the dark background to concentrate on the Infant who stands out against a pure white cloth.Iconography
The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine
This is one of Ribera’s later paintings. Through elegant color combinations and diffused luminosity he broke away from Guido Reni’s style of painting to recover the works of Raphael directly. The episode portrayed, as narrated in the Golden Legend, is not the traditional one in which the Child places the wedding ring on Saint Catherine’s finger, but rather the moment in which the martyr tenderly kisses Christ’s hand. Ribera emphasizes the intimate rather than the mystical and religious aspects of the episode. The figures of Saints Anne and Joachim, the Virgin Mary’s parents, in the shadowy background, confer monumentality on the main group that is perfectly illuminated and animated by the contrasting colors of the two women’s robes. Ribera also include two superb still-lifes: the fruit basket and rose that Anne holds and the bread basket on the floor – definite reference points for future Neapolitan genre paintings.