1902 Encyclopedia > Jusepe Ribera

Jusepe Ribera
Spanish painter

JUSEPE RIBERA, or, in Italian, GIUSEPPE (1588-1656), commonly called Lo SPAGNOLETTO, or the Little Spaniard, a leading painter of the Neapolitan or partly of the Spanish school, was born near Valencia in Spain, at Xativa, now named S. Felipe, on 12th January 1588. His parents intended him for a literary or learned career ; but, having an innate tendency to design, he neglected the regular studies, and entered the school of the Spanish painter Francisco Ribalta. Fired with a longing to study art in its Italian headquarters, he somehow, while still quite a youth, made his way to Rome, worked vehemently, and struggled with hunger and destitution. Early in the 17th century a cardinal noticed him in the streets of Rome drawing from the frescos on a palace façade ; he took up the ragged stripling and housed him in his mansion. Artists had then already bestowed upon the alien student, who was perpetually copying all sorts of objects in art and in nature, the nickname of Lo Spagno-letto. In the cardinal's household Ribera was comfortable but dissatisfied ; he found his studies in abeyance, and one day he decamped. He then betook himself to the famous painter Michelangelo da Caravaggio, the head of the naturalist school, called also the school of the Tene-brosi, or shadow-painters, owing to the excessive contrasts of light and shade which marked their style. In this method of art Ribera, though not claiming the first place as initiator, was destined to rank as hardly second to Caravaggio himself. The Italian master gave every encouragement to the Spaniard, but not for long, as he died in 1609. Ribera, who had in the first instance studied chiefly from Raphael and the Caracci, had by this time acquired so much mastery over the tenebroso style that his performances were barely distinguishable from Caravaggio's own. He now went to Farma, and worked after the frescos of Correggio with great zeal and efficiency ; in the museum of Madrid is his Jacob's Ladder, which is regarded as his chef-d'œuvre in the Correggesque manner. From Parma Spagnoletto returned to Rome, where he resumed the style of Caravaggio, which was doubtless more conformable to his natural bent, and shortly afterwards he migrated to Naples, which became his per-manent home.

Ribera was as yet still poor and inconspicuous, but a rich picture-dealer in Naples soon discerned in him all the stuff of a successful painter, and gave him his daughter in marriage. This was the turning point in the Spaniard's fortunes. He painted a Martyrdom of St Bartholomew, which the father-in-law exhibited from his balcony to a rapidly increasing and admiring crowd. The popular excitement grew to so noisy a height as to attract the attention of the Spanish viceroy the Count de Monterey. From this nobleman and from the king of Spain, Philip IV., commissions now flowed in upon Ribera. Various professional honours followed; he painted with incessant vigour; his house became a centre of fashionable concourse; and he made vast sums of money. In the streets he only appeared in his carriage—then a sure criterion of affluence. After a while he found it necessary to curb his own and his patrons' appetite for work, and he limited himself to six hours in the day, ending towards noon. With prosperity came grasping and jealous selfishness. Spagno-letto, chief in a triumvirate of greed, his abettors being a Greek painter, Belisario Corenzio, and a Neapolitan, Giambattista Caracciolo, determined that Naples should be an artistic monopoly ; by intrigue, terrorizing, and personal violence on occasion they kept aloof all competitors. Annibale Caracci, the Cavalier d'Arpiño, Guido, Domenichino, all of them successively invited to work in Naples, found the place too hot to hold them. Domenichino was so persecuted and victimized that his life was probably abridged by these truly " tenebrous " 'machina-tions. The cabal ended at the time of Caracciolo's death in 1641.

The close of Ribera's triumphant career has been variously related. If we are to believe Dominici, the historian of Neapolitan art, he totally disappeared from Naples in 1648 and was no more heard of,—this being the sequel of the abduction, by Don John of Austria, son of Philip IV., of the painter's beautiful only daughter Maria Rosa. Dominici indeed will not even allow that Ribera was a Spaniard by birth : he alleges that the painter, though of Spanish descent, was born at Gallipoli, in the province of Lecce, kingdom of Naples. But these as-sertions have not availed to displace the earlier and well-authenticated statement that Ribera, a genuine Spaniard in the fullest sense, died peaceably and wealthy in Naples in 1656. His own signature on his pictures is constantly " Jusepe de Ribera, Español." His daughter, so far from being disgraced by an abduction, married a Spanish noble-man who became a minister of the viceroy.

The pictorial style of Spagnoletto is extremely powerful ; or one might better define its special quality as immensely forcible, equally sustaining the test of a distant and general or of a close and scrutinizing view. In his earlier style, founded (as we have seen) sometimes on Caravaggio and sometimes on the wholly diverse method of Correggio, the study of Spanish and Venetian masters can likewise be traced. Along with his massive and predominat-ing shadows, he retained from first to last great strength of local colouring. His forms, though ordinary and partly gross, are cor-rect ; the impression of his works gloomy and startling. He delighted in subjects of horror : an agonizing martyrdom—the grid-iron of Lawrence, the flaying knife of Bartholomew, or the vulture of Prometheus—had for him no repulsion but a grim fascination. He had many imitators, his influence extending from Naples to other parts of Italy, and also to his native Spain. Salvator Rosa and Luca Giordano were his most distinguished pupils ; also Giovanni Do, Enrico Fiammingo, Michelangelo Fracanzani, and .Aniello Falcone, who was the first considerable painter of battle-pieces. Among Ribera's principal works should bo named St Januarius Emerging from the Furnace, in the cathedral of Naples ; the Descent from the Cross, in the Neapolitan Certosa, generally regarded as his masterpiece ; the Adoration of the Shepherds (a late work, 1650), now in the Louvre ; the Martyrdom of St Bartholomew, in the museum of Madrid ; the Pietà in the sacristy of S. Martino, Naples. His mythologic subjects are generally unpleasant—such as the Silenus, in the Studi Gallery of Naples, and Venus Lamenting over Adonis, in the Corsini Gallery of Rome. The Louvre contains alto-gether twenty-five of his paintings ; the London National Gallery two—one of them, a Pietà, being an excellent though not exactly a leading specimen. He executed several fine male portraits ; among others his own likeness, now in the collection at Alton Towers. He also produced twenty-six etchings, ably treated. For the use of his pupils, he drew a number of elementary designs, which in 1650 wc¡re etched by Francisco Fernandez, and which continued much in rogue for a long while among Spanish and French painters and I students.

Besides the work of Dommici already referred to (1840-46), the Diccionario Histórico of Cean Bermudez is the principal authority regarding Ribera and his works. (W. M. R.)

The above article was written by: W. M. Rossetti.

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