Through Spanish Eyes
by Javier PortÃºs
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Through Spanish Eyes from DFeller2
[Image 1: Book cover.]
When the Chief Curator of Spanish Painting (up until 1700) at the Prado Museum in Spain decides to write a monograph on Jusepe de Ribera as part of that institutionâs series spotlighting several of its art stars, itâs a given that he assumes the artist belongs in his countryâs pantheon.Â Lest there be any doubt, the note on the inside front dust jacket of Javier PortÃºsâs Ribera claims the painter and printmaker as a âleading figure in the baroque Spanish traditionâalongside El Greco, VelÃ¡zquez and ZurbarÃ¡n,â and names him JosÃ© rather than the more Italian, Jusepe.
In the very first paragraph, under the chapter heading âIn Search of an Identity,â PortÃºs acknowledges this inherent bias and addresses the tradition of categorizing Ribera as a Spanish painter even though the artist left Spain when he was barely twenty and never returned to the land of his birth.Â Aware of the exalted status of artists in Italy, Ribera chose it over a Spain that was ââa pious mother to foreigners but a very cruel stepmother to her own native sons.ââ
[Image 2:Map of Iberian Peninsula, 1270-1492.]
Born in XÃ¡tiva, Valencia, in 1591, Ribera vanishes in the record for the next twenty years.Â No documentation has so far been uncovered beyond his baptismal certificate, dated February 17, 1591, that indicates his whereabouts prior to June 11, 1611, when a record of payment for a painting places him in Parma, Italy.
There are, however, documents indicating that when Ribera was six years old, his father remarried and did so again ten years later.Â Itâs likely that the reasons for the remarriages were the deaths in childbirth, or from illness, of the boyâs first two mothers.Â Perhaps the second loss, before the boy was sixteen, prompted the fledgling artist to leave home and seek his fortune where his work would be more highly regarded, a possibility that squares with recent scholarship that pushes back the date of his arrival in Italyâspecifically Romeâby several years.
By 1613, Ribera was well enough established to receive an invitation to a meeting at the Accademia di San Luca in Rome.Â During his subsequent three years in that city, he came in contact with the legacy of Caravaggio, an artist who had fled the city by 1606, leaving behind many followers and plenty of artwork to impress and influence the young Spanish immigrant.Â That Ribera led âa disordered lifeâ there suggests that he fell in with the artists who once accompanied Caravaggio on his nightly rounds and got into street brawls and entanglements with the law.
PortÃºs picks up his narrative in Rome, laying out his position regarding Riberaâs national affiliation, first by noting how the painterâs style evolved from Caravaggesque tenebrism and undefined space to lighter-colored, multi-figured compositions in architectural settings, and then by drawing attention to the manner in which the artist signed his name.
–Denial of St. Peter (c. 1614, oil on canvas, 64.2″ x 91.75″ [163 x 233 cm]).Â Galleria Corsini, Rome.
-Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Denial of St. Peter (c. 1610, oil on canvas, 37″ x 49.4″ [94 x 125.4 cm]).Â Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
-Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, The Calling of St. Matthew (1599-1600, oil on canvas, 127″ x 130″ [322 x 340 cm]).Â San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome.]
That Caravaggioâs tenebrism had a strong impact on Riberaâs early works is readily accepted by PortÃºs, who finds in the younger artistâs âpainterly technique and…enthusiasm for chiaroscuro effectâ a direct link.Â He seems to miss the other commonalities between the master and the newly minted artist that continued well into Riberaâs later years, similarities that include more than just the raking light that originates on the left.Â Caravaggioâs theatrical compositions placed gesturing, three-quarter-length figures, wearing dramatic facial expressions, in an undefined space, characteristics evident in the paintings PortÃºs selects to connect the two painters.
In his Denial of St. Peter (c. 1614), Ribera borrows the denying saintâs pose directly from Caravaggioâs painting of the same name (about 1610) and includes figures around a table, a common theme among the Caravaggisti and traceable to Caravaggioâs The Calling of St. Matthew (1599-1600), which is also the source of Christâs pointing finger in the younger painterâs Resurrection of Lazarus (c.1616), which PortÃºs mentions in his comparison of the two artistsâ work.
–The Resurrection of Lazarus (c.1616, oil on canvas, 55″ x 90Â½” [171 x 289 cm]).Â Museo del Prado, Madrid.
-Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, The Calling of St. Matthew (1599-1600, oil on canvas, 127″ x 130″ [322 x 340 cm]).Â San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome.
-Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Raising of Lazarus (1608-9, oil on canvas, 149.6″ x 108.3″ [380 x 275 cm]).Â Museo Nazionale, Messina.]
The curator, in noting the power of tenebrism to heighten emotions, sees a qualitative difference between the âtumult and anxietyâ in Caravaggioâs Raising of Lazarus (1608-9) compared with the toned down emotional content of Riberaâs version, observing too the contrast between the âdeliberate crowdingâ in the former and a âclear distinct spaceâ for each figure in the latter. It seems strange, though, that the writer would choose a painting with a compositional format so removed from Riberaâs and from the more relevant Caravaggios with their three-quarter-length figures in shallow space.
[Image 5:The Communion of the Apostles (1651, oil on canvas, 157.5″ x 157.5″ [400 x 400 cm]).Â Certosa di San Martino, Naples.]
Having compared and contrasted Riberaâs early Caravaggesque style with that of its originator, PortÃºs goes on to illustrate how that style gradually evolved over time, retaining its naturalism.Â He uses the large-scale Communion of the Apostles (1651) done the year before Riberaâs death to chart those changes, particularly in the way the painter has brightened his palette and opened up space with a blue sky populated by flying angels and an arcade receding to some unspecified place.Â PortÃºs sees the drapery across the top as the artistâs allusion to the paintingâs artificial nature, though it could just as easily be read as a stage curtain pulled back to reveal the dramatic event.Â Marveling at Riberaâs skill, the writer points out the interplay of the five handsâ participating in this first offering of holy communion, as well as the parallel action of the kneeling St. Peterâs left hand with the right foot of the standing Christ.
[Image 6:The Immaculate Conception (1635, oil on canvas, 67.7″ x 112.2″ [502 x 329 cm]).Â Church of the Convento de las Agustinas Recoletas de Monterrey, Salamanca.]
To further note Riberaâs gradual move away from a Caravaggesque style, PortÃºs cites two other paintingsâThe Immaculate Conception (1635) and St. Januarius Emerges Unscathed from the Oven (1646), both undeniably different in appearance from early works.Â The reader will discover in a matter of pages, however, that these paintings were contemporaneous with others that continued to include many elements from Riberaâs Rome years.
–St. Januarius Emerges Unscathed from the Oven (1646, oil on copper, 126″ x 78.75″ [320 x 200 cm]).Â Real Cappella del Tesoro di San Gennaro, Naples.
-Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, The Martyrdom of St. Matthew (1599-1600, oil on canvas, 127.2″ x 135″ [323 x 343 cm]).Â San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome.]
In fact, a closer look at the composition and figures in the St. Januarius demonstrates Riberaâs memory of Caravaggioâs Martyrdom of St. Matthew (1599-1600), which he would have seen in the chapel where it did (and still does) reside in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome.Â First and most obvious is the quote of Caravaggioâs open-mouthed boy, wearing white and looking back over his shoulder at the impending execution.Â Ribera mirrors that expression and pose in his young man in red on the left, who looks out at the viewer.Â Less direct but clearly related is the placement of a foreground figure in each lower corner to frame the action.Â Like Caravaggio, Ribera positions one with his back to the audience and the other stretched out on the ground, body facing forward and head turning back toward the unmarred saint.Â Tumult abounds in both pictures.
The debate about Riberaâs nationality takes on new complexities once he relocates to Naples, where he is documented by 1616.Â The bustling city, capital of a Spanish viceroyalty, offered the artist opportunities to market himself to his compatriots, particularly the procession of viceroys who came and went during the 36 years Ribera lived there.Â Through commissions and sales to patrons who moved between Naples and Spain, the painter spread his influence to at-home Spanish artists, the names of which PortÃºs lists as he picks up the thread about nationality with a focus on Riberaâs signature.
[Image 8:Balthasarâs Vision (1635, oil on canvas, 20.5″ x 25.2″ [52 x 64 cm]).Â Palazzo Arcivescovile, Milan.]
In Spain, writers like Francisco Pacheco claimed the artist as their own; in Italy, he was known as lo Spagnoletto, a nod to his place of origin.Â A diminutive with negative connotations, the nickname translated to the Spanish el espaÃ±oleto but was bypassed by Ribera when he settled on signature styles.Â PortÃºs points out how the painter signed an unusually large number of works compared to other artists of that time and chose the more dignified espaÃ±ol over the well-known espaÃ±oleto to emphasize his association with Spain.
The curator delves into a variety of signature issues in trying to discern whether Ribera identified himself as first and foremost Spanish.Â Whatever else the proliferation of signed works might indicate, they show that Ribera was âgreatly concerned with leaving written evidence of the authorship of his work,â and PortÃºs finds plenty of examples to prove that point.
Often the signatures call attention to themselves as integral parts of the composition.Â In the small canvas, Balthasarâs Vision (1635), Ribera painted âJusepe de Ribera espaÃ±ol F. 1635″ in the same script used by the hand that writes on the wall.
–Drunken Silenus (1626, oil on canvas, 72.8″ x 90.2″ [185 x 229 cm]).Â Museo di Capodimonte, Naples.
-Detail of signature.Â Drunken Silenus (1626, oil on canvas, 72.8″ x 90.2″ [185 x 229 cm]).Â Museo di Capodimonte, Naples.]
In the Drunken Silenus (1626), in the lower left corner, a snakeâthat symbol of envyâtears apart a scrap of paper on which is written the artistâs name.
[Image 10:The Communion of the Apostles (1651, oil on canvas, 157.5″ x 157.5″ [400 x 400 cm]).Â Certosa di San Martino, Naples.]
In The Communion of the Apostles, in the lower left, the piece of paper is so large as not to be missed.
–Large Grotesque Head (1622, etching, 8.5″ x 5.7″ [21.7 x 14.5 cm]).Â Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Vienna.
–Head of a Man with Little Figures on His Head (c. 1630, pen and brown ink with brown wash over some black chalk on paper, 611/16″ x 41/16″ [17 x 10.4cm]).Â Philadelphia Museum of Art.]
Signed works like these are more abundant after 1625, but the desire to publicize his prowess as an artist is already evident several years earlier in etchings Ribera created and circulated to advertise his wares and generate income.Â Unlike paintings, prints lend themselves to mass production and widespread distribution, and Ribera exploited both attributes to reach potential customers throughout Europe.
These mostly signed works also constituted a showcase for the artistâs drawing skills and his command of the printmaking process.Â PortÃºs sees the etchings, seventeen in number and created prior to 1630, as vehicles for Riberaâs âhighly questing creative spirit,â observing in them âan unequivocally Riberesque world…of narrative resources, human types, varied subject matter and different emotional climates.âÂ In the Large Grotesque Head (1622), the artist explores a particular type and in the drawing of a Head of a Man with Little Figures on His Head (c. 1630) he displays a touch of whimsy and playfulness, though a darker meaning might lurk nearby.Â Might those little men represent obsessional thinking and/or auditory hallucinations?
–Calvary (c. 1618, oil on canvas, 132.25″ x 90.5″ [336 x 230 cm]).Â Collegiate Church, Osuna.
-Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Martha and Mary Magdalen (1595â96, oil and tempera on canvas, 39â ” x 53″ [100 x 134.5 cm]).Â Detroit Institute of Arts.]
If Ribera identified himself as Spanish, his paintings anchor him firmly in the Italian Baroque and were seen as such by two practiced connoisseurs, Philip IV and Diego VelÃ¡zquez, when they selected his artwork while redecorating El Escorial in the late 1650s.Â His âthoroughly Italianateâ style qualified him as the only Spanish painter to be displayed in the company of such Italian masters as Titian and Veronese.
Straddling both worlds began to pay off for Ribera soon after he landed in Naples, with commissions for paintings that arrived at their destinationâthe Collegiate Church in Osuna, Spainâby 1627.Â Among these was a crucifixion, Calvary (c. 1618), a tour de force in tenebrism and emotion, whose colorful fabrics bring to mind those in Caravaggioâs Martha and Mary Magdalen (1595-96).
-View of the nave of the Certosa di San Martino, Naples.
-Paintings of the prophets Joel and Amos above the church arches in the Certosa di San Martino, Naples.]
A decade later, Ribera would execute in Naples a series of prophets for the Certosa di San Martino, a monastery on a hill overlooking the city.Â The painter met the challenge of devising compositions that conformed to the irregular spaces into which they were to be placed by relating each figure to its surrounding architecture.Â PortÃºs mentions that although a number of Riberaâs paintings did find their way to religious institutions like the Osuna church and Carthusian Monastery, commissions like these were rare.Â Instead, the artist specialized âin medium-size and small paintings, conceived for private collections and chapels and easily transportable,â mostly of a sacred nature.
[Image 14:St. Bartholomew (c. 1613, oil on canvas, 49.6″ x 38.2″ [126 x 97 cm]).Â Fondazione Roberto Longhi, Florence.]
PortÃºs soon delves into the âRiberesqueâ world depicted in those compositions, one âin which joy or happiness is hard to find, in which laughter creates a sinister effect and tenderness is rare.âÂ At the same time, themes of âpiety, stoicism, devotion, austerity, meditation and drama abound,â with âcruelty and the grotesqueâ an integral part of much of his work.Â Most of those qualities, particularly the last two, are quite evident in the bloodless but flayed St. Bartholomew (c. 1613) who holds in his right hand the instrument of his torture and drapes over his left arm his recently removed skin, replete with facial features and hair.Â The theme of flaying remains of interest to Ribera, who comes back to this saint in future paintings and also explores the myth of Marsyas and Apollo.
Of Riberaâs style, PortÃºs notes its naturalism, as seen in the specific human types that populate the artistâs compositions, and its âprecise and descriptive pictorial idiom.âÂ He describes how the painter clothes his humble characters in earthy-colored, outdated garments that emphasize their poverty, and gives them beardedâthey are mostly maleâexpressive faces with wrinkled, weatherbeaten skin.Â PortÃºs traces this rejection of the prevailing Renaissance preference for idealization to certain antique Roman sculpture, while missing the possible influence of Caravaggioâs depiction of religious figures as ordinary people who sometimes reveal their dirty feet.
–Smell (c. 1615, oil on canvas, 45.25″ x 34.65″ [115 x 88 cm]).Â Private collection, Madrid.
–Sight (c. 1615, oil on canvas, 44.9″ x 35″ [114 x 89 cm]).Â Museo Franz Mayer, Mexico, DF.]
Among Riberaâs secular subjects, a series of the five senses dates to his early years in Rome and reappears in later paintings that dramatically demonstrate the evolution of his style.Â A long-standing traditional theme in Western art, the senses presented opportunities for innovation that, according to PortÃºs, Ribera exploited by situating all the figures behind a table, directing their gaze toward the viewer (except for the blind man in Touch ), and giving them objects and behavior that illustrate the pictured sense.Â Light streams in from the upper left, illuminating the detailed depiction of still-life objects, facial features and cloth.Â PortÃºs notes that in Sight, Ribera equipped the character with a telescope, a device only recently invented by Galileo.
–Touch (1615, oil on canvas, 44.85″ x 35″ [114 x 89 cm]).Â Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California.
–Touch (1632, oil on canvas, 49.2″ x 38.5″ [125 x 98 cm]).Â Museo del Prado, Madrid.]
When the painter returned to the theme of the senses some fifteen years later with his 1632 Touch, he retained the trope of using a blind man perceiving a sculpted head to emphasize the absence of sight.Â What PortÃºs calls the âunnecessaryâ portrait painting on the table in the 1615 version, echoed by a similar object in the later one, is ascribed to Riberaâs need to keep the composition of this sense parallel with that of the others in the series.Â It might also refer to the paragone, that age-old competition between sculpture and painting for highest artistic honors.
The most immediate differences between the two paintings occur in the lighting, range of color, pose, attire and detail with which Ribera renders it all.Â The raking light from the left that divides the background diagonally in the first work is replaced by a mostly dark backdrop that lacks any direct relationship to the light that picks out the details in the face, hands and sculpture.Â Where the blind man, wearing what might be a sculptorâs smock, turns from the viewer in the earlier version, he now wears tattered clothing and faces front, handling a less classical head.Â Finally, Ribera has aged him by greying his beard and wrinkling his skin.
[Image 17:Protagoras (1637, oil on canvas, 48.88″ x 38.75″ [124 x 98 cm]).Â Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut.]
The general layout the painter devised for picturing the senses became a handy template to be used freely in subsequent single-figure paintings.Â Using a limited palette, Ribera represented three-quarter-length philosophers and saints against a dark background, sitting or standing behind or near a table adorned with still-life objects symbolic of the subjectâall depicted with remarkable detail.
Counting over thirty paintings of philosophers done by the artist, PortÃºs writes about them at length, concluding that anyone standing before them âmight believe they are in the presence of a collection of ragged âsecular saints.ââ In comparing a couple of Riberaâs philosophers to similarly presented saints, he observes that the clothing of the saints is considerably neater.
–Democritus (1614, oil on canvas, 40.15″ x 29.9″ [102 x 76 cm]).Â Private collection, London.
–Democritus (1630, oil on canvas, 49.2″ x 31.9″ [125 x 81 cm]).Â Museo del Prado, Madrid.]
In revisiting one philosopher in particular, Ribera again provided an opportunity to compare the changes over time in his thinking about his subject and his art.Â The Democritus (1614) from his Rome years has a similar palette and lighting scheme as the contemporaneous Touch, while the Democritus executed in 1630 displays changes comparable to those associated with the 1632 Touch.Â In both renditions of Democritus, Ribera has associated philosophy with poverty by emphasizing the torn clothing.
[Image 19:St. Jerome and the Angel of Judgment (1626, oil on canvas, 142.5″ x 64.5″ [362 x 164]).Â Museo di Capodimonte, Naples.]
Having focused mostly on paintings from Riberaâs years in Rome, PortÃºs now moves with him to Naples, where the painter relocated around 1616, married and added to his repertoire large-format canvases of saints, many of which are shown at the moment of their martyrdom in various stages of exposure.Â As the writer puts it, Ribera âdiscovered one of the methods he would apply with great frequency and success [to transmit] feelings of religious devotion: description of flesh…[that endows] the human body with special significance as the scenario of saintliness.âÂ PortÃºs attributes this change of focus to Riberaâs encounter with a different client base, by implication less sophisticated.
An early example of Riberaâs exploitation of fleshâs potential for expressiveness is his St. Jerome and the Angel of Judgment (1626).Â In this vertical composition, the artist has raised the saintâs arms to expose his brightly illuminated bare torso, making it the center of interest and a testament to the vulnerability of the body, appropriate for a scene where St. Jerome is being called to his maker.Â The lighting, gestures and threatening dark clouds heighten the drama and make practically audible the trumpetâs ominous blare.
–Magdalena Penitent (1637, oil on canvas, 38.2″ x 26″ [97 x 66 cm]).Â Museo del Prado, Madrid.
–St. Mary the Egyptian (1641, oil on canvas, 52.4″ x 41.75″ [133 x 106 cm]).Â MusÃ©e Fabre, Montpellier.]
Two paintings of penitent womenâtheir creation separated by just a few yearsâdemonstrate the impact bare skin can have on the expressive tone of a composition.Â Â In Magdalena Penitent (1637), a fully clothed Mary is shown with the furrowed brow and lowered upper eyelids of sorrow as she leans her head on her prayerfully clasped hands, which in turn are supported by a skull they partially embrace.Â Her remorse is as evident as her beauty.
In the starkly different St. Mary the Egyptian (1641), who is often confused with Mary Magdalene, Ribera places this patron saint of penitents in a barren environment near a skull and crust of bread.Â Hands joined in prayer, Mary of Egypt gazes upward, her ascetic penance underscored by the heavy brown cloth that doesnât quite cover her weathered skin.Â By exposing her flesh, Ribera infused the scene with the same sense of vulnerable mortality that he did in his St. Jerome and the Angel of Judgment, a feeling absent from his lovely Magdalena Penitent.
[Image 21:The Martyrdom of St. Philip (1639, oil on canvas, 92.1″ x 92.1″ [234 x 234]).Â Museo del Prado, Madrid.]
Further exploiting the expressive potential of nakedness, as PortÃºs observes, Ribera arrived at a formula for his martyrdom narratives, key elements of which are nude or partially draped male saints whose nakedness and expressions of meditative acceptance stand in sharp contrast to those of their clothed torturers, intent on their murderous tasks with sadistic glee.Â In some of these paintings, figures populate the background, variously watching or not.
In one example, The Martyrdom of St. Philip (1639), two diagonals bisect the picture and meet at the saintâs spotlighted rib cage, which comes into view as his body is slowly hoisted upâhis wrists tied to the crosspiece of his crucifixion.Â Among the spectators, expressions range from the amused interest of the man on the right who supports his head on his hand to the knowing look on the woman in the lower left who holds a baby and stares out at the viewer, implicating all in this act of torture.
–Scene of Torture (1637-1640, pen and brown ink, brown wash, 5â ” x 10â ” [13.6 x 27.2 cm]).Â Teylers Museum, Haarlem.
–Torture Scene (N.d., drawing, no dimensions).Â Museo Civico, Bassano del Grappa.]
Riberaâs personal interest in such scenes of torture shows up in drawings he executed âfor which no sources have been found in the Scriptures.âÂ An undated one, apparently in pen and brown ink with brown wash, shows a tree festooned with miniature figuresâeasily mistaken for acrobatsâinvolved in a hanging.Â A man in a small audience, with a child hanging onto him, indicates the performance to a newcomer who tips his hat in friendly greeting.Â No one seems troubled by the unfolding events.Â In another ink drawing, the executioner is about to hack into his defenseless victim who is stretched out between, and tied to, two sets of posts.
[Image 23:The Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew (1617, oil on canvas, 70.5″ x 52.75″ [179 x 139 cm]).Â Collegiate Church, Osuna, Spain.]
As mentioned earlier, flaying held a particular fascination for Ribera who explored that form of torture in at least five versions of The Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew.Â The Rome 1613 portrait of the saint holding his skin was followed in 1617 by perhaps the artistâs first Naples edition, which has an almost clinical quality to it.
[Image 24:The Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew (1628, oil on canvas, 57″ x 85″ [145 x 216 cm]).Â Palazzo Pitti, Galleria Palatina, Florence.]
Over the years, Ribera would create additional compositions portraying St. Bartholomew, each exemplifying his stylistic preferences at the time.
[Image 25:The Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew (1630, oil on canvas, 79.5″ x 60.2″ [202 x 153 cm]).Â Museu Nacional dâArt de Catalunya, Barcelona.]
[Image 26:The Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew (1634, oil on canvas, 40.9″ x 44.5″ 104 x 113 cm]).Â National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.]
In the 1634 version, he simplified the composition by eliminating figures and zooming in on the face of the emotionally detached executioner who regards his victim with curiosity as he sharpens his knife.Â St. Bartholomew looks heavenward as if seeking out some source of comfort in this moment where his faith is being tested.
–Apollo and Marsyas (1637, oil on canvas, 71.6″ x 91.3″ [182 x 232 cm]).Â Museo di Capodimonte, Naples.
-Detail of Marsyasâs face, flipped.
-Detail of Study of Noses and Mouths (c. 1622, etching).Â Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Vienna.]
In discussing Riberaâs treatment of emotions, PortÃºs isolates his special interest in those ârelated to devotion, piety, cruelty and pain,â recalling drawings and prints like the Study of Noses and Mouths (c. 1622) to illustrate the artistâs âpenchant for these themes and for the grotesque.âÂ The curator connects the wide-open mouth of that etching to the victimâs scream in Apollo and Marsyas (1637), a distinctly different response to the slicing knife from that of St. Bartholomew in the 1630 version of his ordeal.
-Detail of Marsyasâs face, flipped, Apollo and Marsyas (1637, oil on canvas, 71.6″ x 91.3″ [182 x 232 cm]).Â Museo di Capodimonte, Naples.
-Detail of face, flipped, The Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew (1630, oil on canvas, 79.5″ x 60.2″ [202 x 153 cm]).Â Museu Nacional dâArt de Catalunya, Barcelona.]
PortÃºs observes that in Riberaâs depiction of mythological subjects, âtheir facial expressions…invariably reveal all the horror…[while] the attitude of the saints is always one of piety and acceptance of torture,…a highly effective means…to convey religious feeling.âÂ This difference is apparent in the faces of Marsyas and St. Bartholomew; the former screams in agony and looks directly at the viewer, while the latter contains his anguish and rolls his eyes upward in an attempt to mentally escape his pain.
[Image 29:The Trinity (1635, oil on canvas, 89″ x 46.5″ [226Â x 118 cm]).Â Museo del Prado, Madrid.]
Using the emotionally expressive figures in the colorful St. Januarius Emerges Unscathed from the Oven as a bridge back to his opening thesis about Riberaâs later change in direction toward a less tenebristic style, PortÃºs attributes the appearance in the 1630s of an âextension of the artistâs palette toward warm, sumptuous tones…[and] an engaging, relaxed, expansive piety…expressed through marked chromatic sensualityâ to the Neo-Venetianism that was sweeping across Italy, and with the arrival in Naples during that decade of a number of classicizing artists.Â He cites The Trinity (1635) as one of several works that exemplify this shift.
A close look at that painting reveals more about the fluidity with which Ribera moved among his stylistic options than about any fundamental transformation in his artistic practices.Â Warm, high-value colors distinguish the heavenly sphere from the lower-register darkness out of which angels emerge and carry the body of Christ, whose pale skin and white shroud contrasts dramatically with the shadowy background.
–St. Jerome in His Study (1613, oil on canvas, 48.4″ x 39.4″ [123 x 100]).Â Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto.
–St. Jerome Penitent (1652, oil on canvas, 30.4″ x 28.3″ [77.2 x 71.8]).Â Museo del Prado, Madrid.]
Riberaâs style continued to mature with time and practice and while there are noticeable differences between St. Jerome in His Study (1613)âhis first signed paintingâand St. Jerome Penitent (1652)âthe last signed one completed before his death in 1652 (a comparison with which PortÃºs ends his discourse), he never abandoned the tenebrism of his youth.
In St. Jerome Penitent, the saint bares a softly-modeled, anatomically descriptive right shoulder and boasts a head of shaggy grey hair with matching beard.Â Even at this late date, Ribera found uses for his earliest technique of zooming in close on brightly lit, half-to-three-quarter-length figures accompanied by identifying still-life objects.Â In this St. Jerome, he applied paint with short, confident brushstrokes that follow the contours of forms and animate the hair, hallmarks of the adept and brilliant painter he had become.
The mature Ribera sharply contrasts with the younger one, however, in the degree to which his subject now engages with the viewer, as PortÃºs astutely points out.Â In the 1613 St. Jerome in His Study, the saint is occupied with his writing, unaware of the observer.Â In the later St. Jerome Penitent, the figure is positioned closer to the picture plane and looks through itâif not directly at the audience at least in its direction.Â The 61-year-old Ribera seems to have evolved not just as an artist but also as a man far more conscious of the power of relationship.
[Image 31:Magdalena Ventura (The Bearded Lady) (1631, oil on canvas, 77.2″ x 50″ [196 x 127 cm]).Â Exhibited at the Museo del Prado, Madrid.]
The life of Jusepe de Ribera came to an end on September 3, 1652.Â No contemporary writer chose to immortalize this Spanish-Italian artist with a biography that would have preserved vital facts about his life.Â In the absence of such a record, posterity has been left with no information about his psychologically formative childhood years nor about his early training as an artistâwhere or with whom that might have been.Â Perhaps a new generation of art historians will be inspired to rummage around the archives of XÃ¡tiva and Valencia in search of the missing pieces that will finally fill in the blanks of this great artistâs life.Â Meanwhile, art lovers can continue to marvel at the enigma who painted with such veracity the stunning portrait of Magdalena Ventura (The Bearded Lady) (1631).
Brown, Jonathan.Â Paintings in Spain: 1500-1700.Â New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998.
_____________.Â VelÃ¡zquez: Painter and Courtier.Â New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986.
Marandel, J. Patrice, ed.Â Caravaggio and His Legacy.Â New York: Prestel Verlag, 2012.
PerÃ©z, Alfonso E., and Nicola Spinosa.Â Jusepe de Ribera 1591-1652.Â New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992.
PortÃºs, Javier.Â Ribera.Â Barcelona, Spain: Ediciones Poligrafa, 2011.
[A version of this review with footnotes is available.Â If interested, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.]
Posted in Art Book Reviews |
1874 - 1948
Nicholas Alexandrovich Berdyaev [1874 - 1948]
from Russian Philosophy, Volume III
Edited by James M. Edie, James P. Scanlan, & Mary-Barbara Zeldin;
with the collaboration of George L. Kline
University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, TN, 1976
Berdyaev was born in 1874, in Kiev province. His family was of the military aristocracy, relatively liberal, not particularly religiously oriented. He studied law at the University of Kiev and soon, like many students of his time, joined Marxist circles there. His studies were interrupted in 1898, when he was arrested for his socialist activities and exiled for three years to Vologda. It was there that he wrote several articles for Die Neue Zeit, edited in Germany by Karl Kautsky. It was there also that he wrote his first book, Subjectivism and Individualism in Social Philosophy, published in 1901. The book is a critique of Mikhailovsky's "subjectivism." In the selection from it which has been included in this volume, Berdyaev's dissatisfaction with orthodox Marxism is already evident.
Berdyaev very early found Marxism insufficient as a world view. He could not accept Marxist determinism: Berdyaev has been called the philosopher of freedom; his concern was ethical and he placed the highest value on the dignity and worth the individual person. It was inevitable that with such an outlook Berdyaev should try to supplement the relativistic ethics and the determinism of Marxism. He did so from the first, seeking as many of his compatriots did, an answer in the ethics of Kant. But Marxism cannot tolerate any form of idealism. In such an impasse, Berdyaev broke with Marxism, retaining only the critique of bourgeois capitalism and much of the dialectic -- the latter, however, purified of materialism and returned to its Hegelian form. In the second selection for this volume, Berdyaev gives his evaluation of Marxism in terms of his mature philosophical view.
Turning more and more to mystical religion and to Nietzsche -- many of whose views he found highly congenial--Berdyaev successively edited two periodicals, Novuy Put (The New Way) and Voprosy Zhizni (Problems of Life). By the time he published The Meaning of Creativity in 1916, his philosophy had taken definite shape; after this it never substantially changed.
Berdyaev left Russia in 1922. He settled briefly in Berlin, then moved to Paris where he wrote most of his major works.
Aside from his early Marxism, its Kantian revision, and the influence of Nietzsche, Berdyaev mentions as authors whose thought particularly affected his own, Jacob Boehme, Dostoevsky, Solovyov, the major Slavophiles of the 1840's, and Merezhkovsky. Many of these influences are indeed evident in his work.
Berdyaev characterizes his mature philosophical outlook as existential and eschatological. It is thus a form of religious existentialism which has its roots in the philosophy of the Slavophiles and the main concern of which is for the person as a creative spirit, in contrast to the socialized role-playing individual, whom he finds "bourgeois" and banal. His philosophy thus centers on freedom, spirit, and their role in history. The majority of the selections below are intended to give the reader the essential features of this philosophy.
Berdyaev distinguishes two realms of reality -- spirit and nature, or being.(1) Spirit is opposed to nature, it is living, personal, free, creative activity. Nature is object, thing; it is necessity, passivity. To put it in more familiar terms, there is a "noumenal realm " contrasted with a "phenomenal realm," but, unlike Kant, Berdyaev envisages both realms as knowable and both realms as ontologically real. The former is knowable through free, creative activity, which indeed takes place in that realm; the latter is also real and has come to be through original sin.
Taking his cue from Boehme, Berdyaev explains the world as follows: The world was created out of nothing, but this " nothing " is not empty, it is the Ungrund, comparable to a de-materialized Aristotelian pure potency. The Ungrund, as pure potency, is irrational and free. Out of it is born God, a Spirit, suprarational, as is all that is spiritual. We can describe God only by pairs of contradictories, but we can speak of His love, which is the irrational "meonic " freedom of the Ungrund in Him. God is really present in all creative activity and has power over all His creation. Longing for an "object " of His love, God creates the world and man out of nothing (the Ungrund). Thus the world is a combination of the one characteristic of the Ungrund, namely, irrational freedom, and of God as its maker. Since God does not create irrational freedom, He has no power over it and is not responsible for it. And it is irrational freedom which gives birth to evil. It does this by violating the proper hierarchy of the world--creator over creation--when the world asserts itself (its freedom) against God.
The result is the Fall--separation from the divine, the loss of spiritual primacy, disintegration, slavery, natural being, meaninglessness, the "phenomenal " world of objects and law. The freedom of this world is the mere "freedom " of obeying law, it is "the recognition of necessity." God cannot avert the evil Of the Fall. He can, however, not as Creator, but as Redeemer, conquer evil born of irrational freedom, by descending into the world and enlightening it, by reawakening the spiritual element in the world, that element which the world cannot lose since world is the creation of spirit. In the Incarnation, therefore, God, through love, delivers man from nature. By God's act a third type of freedom is born, man's free love of God. This freedom is creative, spiritual, and thus the source of the salvb tion of man and the world.
Man, who is created a person, i.e., a spirit, as fallen becomes an object in an "objectified world," and he knows the world only objectively. Original sin is thus the source of the world or objects and of objective knowledge, and has both an ontological and an epistemological effect. In this situation, object is alien to knowing subject, personality is submerged in the general, man is socialized, determined by natural laws, true communication of persons becomes impossible, and only mediated approximations through concepts are left. This is the world of science and corn. mon sense. It is the world of the Philistine and bourgeois, of facts, of substances, categories, logical laws, and all the trappings of metaphysics. In fact, it is Hell.
Fortunately, the divine in man remains. Insofar as man is a creative being, has creative activity, he is still spirit. In such activity, man is a citizen of the realm of spirit. He knows instinctively spiritual reality which, in contrast to fact, is value and meaning. For creative activity is love: it is the energy with which God created man, the force of Grace, and love is a capacity to fuse and yet to be a person; in love the relation is not one of I-to-it, but, to use Buber's terminology, of I-Thou.
And insofar as this is possible, man is now saved, a spirit; the Kingdom of God is now for anyone who would but look with the eyes of spirit. For time itself, as we know it, is a result of the Fall. Time is division into past and future.
Berdyaev's view of time is given in the last selection. He distinguishes three kinds of time: cosmic, the cyclical time of the objectified natural world; historical, in which man acts and in which, insofar as man, acts creatively, spirit intrudes and the chain of necessity is really broken; existential, which is creative time, the time of the spiritual realm in which all creativity originates The three kinds of time may be symbolized in geometric terms as a circle, a line, and a point. History, then, can be seen as a conflict between irrational freedom and its effects on the one hand, and the free love of God on the other. Thus it is a mixture of necessity and freedom, evolution and revolution.(3) It is a drama which starts with the Fall and which will end with the ultimate Salvation of the world. And ever present behind it, in existential time, is "meta-history," which is simultaneously the goal of history, the meaning of history, and the end of history. Revolutions are breaks of meta-history into history, "little apocalypses," and with them history becomes a "revelation of noumenal reality."(4) The most significant break, after the start of history, is the Incarnation (an eighth day of Creation). After it the conflict of freedom and necessity becomes more and more evident as necessity becomes more and more pervasive at each historical stage. Man is freed from pure nature, but reacts by also freeing himself from God; his severance from God leads to the invention of the machine. The machine, in turn, mechanizes man. At present man, by his very attempt at salvation, is not only dehumanized, but de-natured; he is not even a mere natural thing, he is an artifact. In extreme contrast to the spiritual life of free communion and love (sobornost),(5) man is now subject to compulsory service to society for material needs. The process of history is thus dialectical and, Berdyaev feels optimistically, is rapidly reaching its final phase, when this world will necessarily end in an ultimate conflict and man, all men, will obtain emancipation from objectification.
1. See above, Vol. 2, pp. 188-198.
2. Berdyaev's terminology is not always consistent. "Being " is normally used interchangeably with "nature," the objectified state, but sometimes it is used to include all realms of reality. In this introduction it will be used only in the former sense.
3. The Beginning and the End, trans. R. M. French, New York, I957, p.167.
4. The Origin of Russian Communism, trans. R. M. French, Ann Arbor, 1960, p. 131; The Meaning of History, trans. George Reavey, New York, 1916, p. 16.
5. See above, Vol. 1, pp.161-162.
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Last revised: January 29, 1999