GIUSEPPE RIBERA (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 he neglected the regular studies, and entered the school of the Spanish painter Francisco Ribalta. Fired with a longing to study art in Italy, he somehow made his way to Rome. Early in the 17th century a cardinal noticed him in the streets of Rome drawing from the frescoes on a palace facade; 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 Spagnoletto. In the cardinal's household Ribera was comfortable but dissatisfied, 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 Tenebrosi, or shadow-painters, owing to the excessive contrasts of light and shade which marked their style. 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 Parma, and worked after the frescoes of Correggio with great zeal and efficiency: in the museum of Madrid is his "Jacob's Ladder," which is regarded as his chef-d'oeuvre in this manner. From Parma Spagnoletto returned to Rome, where he resumed the style of Caravaggio, and shortly afterwards he migrated to Naples, which became his permanent;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 fatherin-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. With prosperity came grasping and jealous selfishness. Spagnoletto, chief in a triumvirate of greed, the "Cabal of Naples," 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'Arpino, Guido, Domenichino, all of them successively invited to work in Naples, found the place too hot to hold them. 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. But these assertions have not availed to displace the earlier and well-authenticated statement that Ribera died peaceably and wealthy in Naples in 1656. His own signature on his pictures is constantly "Jusepe de Ribera, Espanol." His daughter, so far from being disgraced by an abduction, married a Spanish nobleman who became a minister of the viceroy.
The pictorial style of Spagnoletto is extremely powerful. 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 predominating shadows, he retained from first to. last great strength of local colouring. His forms, though ordinary and partly gross, are correct; the impression of his works gloomy and startling. He delighted in subjects of horror. 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 be 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 "Pieta," in the sacristy of S. Martino, Naples. His mythologic subjects are generally unpleasant - such as the "Silenus," in the Studj Gallery of Naples, and "Venus Lamenting over Adonis," in the Corsini Gallery of Rome. The Louvre contains altogether twenty-five of his paintings; the National Gallery, London, two - one of them, a "Peita," 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 were etched by Francisco Fernandez, and which continued much in vogue for a long while among Spanish and French painters and students.
Besides the work of Dominici already referred to (1840-46), the Diccionario Historico of Cean Bermudez is a principal authority regarding Ribera and his works; also E. de Lalaing, "Ribera" (in Histoire de quatre grands peintres), 1888. (W. M. R.)
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