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Jusepe de Ribera
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Jativa, Spain
Death Date: 
Death Place: 
One of the most important European artists of the 17th century, Jusepe de Ribera was born in Spain but spent most of his career in Italy. A prolific painter, he was one of the leading artists of the Counter-Reformation. His eighteen etchings had a large influence on European art. About one hundred of his drawings survive, including eight in the Fine Arts Museums’ collection. Other than the record of his baptism on February 17, 1591 in the Spanish town of Játiva, near Valencia, the son of a shoemaker, no records survive about Ribera’s early life and training. When he left Spain for Italy and where he first lived in Italy is not known. We can infer that his artistic skills were well developed by 1611, when he was paid by a religious order in Parma and painted a work for the church of San Prospero in Parma on commission from the Duke of Parma, Ranuccio Farnese (1569-1622). Ribera was in Rome in 1613 when he sought to enter the Accademia di San Luca, and is listed in Rome's Easter censuses of 1615 and 1616 and the Accademia records of 1616. While in Rome he acquired the nickname “Lo Spagnoletto” (The Little Spaniard). With naturalistic themes and dramatic lighting, Ribera’s work at this time shows the influence of Michelangelo Mersi di Caravaggio (1571-1610) and his Dutch followers. Ribera went to Naples later that year; an early biographer suggests he was under pressure from his creditors. The Kingdom of Naples had been under Spanish control since the 15th century, ruled by a Viceroy, and Naples became a comfortable home for the Spanish artist. Sometime between November 1616 and February 1617 Ribera married Caterina Azzolino, the daughter of the prominent Sicilian painter Giovanni Bernardino Azzolino (1572-1645), then working in Naples. Ribera quickly established his reputation in Naples and began receiving important commissions as soon as 1618 from such patrons as Cosimo II de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany (1590-1621) and the Spanish Viceroy, Pedro Téllez-Girón, the 3rd Duke of Osuna (1574-1624). Ribera’s success allowed him to purchase a large house with a garden. Ribera enjoyed the patronage of the Hispanic nobility of Naples, including the successive Viceroys, and the church. Many of his commissioned works were sent to Spain. Ribera made began most of his prints during the 1620’s. Several were reproductive prints after his paintings, no doubt created to demonstrate his artistic skills to the art world throughout Europe. His financial success allowed him to acquire a country estate by 1620. In 1626 Ribera went to Rome to be appointed by Pope Urban VIII (1568-1644) to the Order of Christ of Portugal, a noble order. The Viceroy’s son-in-law witnessed the baptism of Ribera’s daughter in 1630, an indication of Ribera’s heightened social standing. He received commissions in 1630 from Manuel de Acevedo y Zuñiga (1586-1653), the Sixth Count of Monterrey, then the Spanish ambassador to Rome and later Viceroy of Naples from 1631 to 1637. The Count became one of Ribera’s most important patrons; he commissioned works for the Buen Retiro Palace in Madrid and the convent of the Agustinas Descalzas in Salamanca, among others. Ribera’s artistic and economic success continued into the 1640s, allowing him to buy a larger house. After the death of Domenichino (1581-1641), who had been painting works to decorate the chapel of San Gennaro (the city’s patron saint) in the Naples Cathedral, Ribera was commissioned to produce a large painting on copper, St. Gennaro Emerging Unharmed from the Furnace. Ribera was stricken by an illness in 1643 and was unable to work for long periods of time; his workshop fulfilled his commissions, although Ribera sometimes signed the works. Tensions between the Neopolitan populace and the Spanish rulers erupted in a peasant uprising in 1647, forcing Ribera to obtain refuge in the Royal Palace. Don Juan of Austria (1629-1679), the illegitimate son of King Philip IV of Spain (1605-1665) sent to crush the revolt, was portrayed by Ribera in a large painting, Equestrian Portrait of Don Juan of Austria (1648, Madrid: Palacio Real) and in Ribera’s last etching (B. 14). Ribera again suffered health problems in 1649, and financial problems as well. In 1651 he petitioned Philip IV for assistance, and sold his large house. In 1652 he rented a house in Margellina, then on the outskirts of Naples, and died on September 2. (TNB 4/2013) Selected bibliography: Brown, Jonathan. Jusepe de Ribera: Prints and Drawings. Exhibition catalog. Princeton: The Princeton Art Museum, 1973. Pérez Sánchez, Alfonso E. and Nicola Spinosa. Jusepe de Ribera. Exhibition catalog. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992. Finaldi, Gabriele, ed. Jusepe de Ribera: the Drawings--Catalogue raisonne. Madrid: Museo del Prado, Fundacion Focus and Dallis: The Meadows Museum, 2017.