Search the Collections

Salvator Rosa
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Arenella, Naples
Death Date: 
Death Place: 
An innovative painter, draftsman and etcher, Salvator Rosa was also a musician, an actor, perhaps the most important Italian satirical poet in Italy of the 17th century and one of the most flamboyant personalities of his age. While he created history paintings, battle scenes and depictions of strange and bizarre subjects, Rosa's major artistic accomplishment was the creation of a new type of landscapes. Focused on nature's rugged formations, he infused his compositions with a moodiness and emotional energy echoing his petulant personality. Rosa's influence was considerable, inspiring a long line of followers, peaking with the British adherents of romanticism. He was born on June 20, 1615 in the village of Arenella, then on the hilly outskirts of Naples. After briefly studying for the priesthood, he studied art with Francesco Francanzano (1612-1656) after Francanzano married his sister in 1632. Francanzano was a student of Jusepe de Ribera (1591-1652) and Rosa may have studied with Ribera as well. He went to Rome in 1635, where he found lodgings in the palace of Cardinal Francesco Maria Brancaccio (1592-1675), who was from a noble Neapolitan family. In addition to providing commissions, Cardinal Brancaccio permitted Rosa to create and sell works to others. He proved receptive to the stylistic novelties of artists active in Rome, such as Pieter van Laer (1599-ca. 1642) and Claude Lorrain (1604-1682). Rosa had returned to Naples by 1637, where he probably studied with Aniello Falcone (1607-1656), a specialist in battle paintings, who apparently passed that interest on to Rosa. Rosa moved to Viterbo in 1638 as part of the Cardinal Brancaccio’s household, working on commissions from the Cardinal. Rosa returned to Rome in 1639. He became part of a literary group that put on plays. At one such performance Rosa insulted Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), the sculptor then at the height of his fame in Rome. Perhaps because of the ensuing scandal, Rosa accepted the invitation of Prince Gian Carlo de’ Medici (1611-1663) to move to Florence in 1640. He painted battle scenes, landscapes, harbors and mythological scenes for the Prince and the Florentine aristocracy. Active in theatrical and literary circles in Florence, Rosa joined a learned society, the Accademia dei Percossi (Academy of the Afflicted). He began writing satires in verse, which he recited at parties; the incendiary satires were not published during his lifetime. Rosa met Lucrezia Paolino while in Florence, an artist’s model who became his mistress and mother of his several children. They did not marry until shortly before his death, probably because she was considered to still be married to a man who had disappeared from Florence. Rosa returned to Rome in 1649, where he fiercely maintained his independence, refusing commissions except for the most important patrons and instead painting what he was inspired to create, which he then offered for sale. To reach his customers he exhibited at the large public exhibitions held in March in the Pantheon and in August at S. Giovanni Decollato each year. He was admitted to the artists’ Accademia di San Luca in 1650. Rosa attempted to establish himself as a history painter, rather than only selling battle scenes, genre scenes and landscapes, for which there remained a steady market. All his paintings exhibited dramatic chiaroscuro. His popularity led to invitations to become court painter to royalty, but he declined invitations from Queen Christina of Sweden (1626-1689) in 1652 and King Louis XIV of France in 1664. Rosa continued to write satires, which he recited at various events; their criticisms of life at the papal court subjected him to scurrilous attacks. Although Rosa probably created a few etchings ten or fifteen years earlier, his first mention of etchings is in a 1651 letter. He undertook a serious etching project in 1656-57, when he created a portfolio of 62 “Figurines,” small prints depicting usually a single genre figure (but sometimes two or three). He created about twenty etchings in the 1660s on philosophical and moralizing subjects. In all, he created about one hundred etchings. His own philosophy was expressed in his etching, The Genius of Salvator Rosa (1662, B. 24, TIB 4512.025). Richard Wallace’s translation of its Latin caption reads, “Sincere, free, fiery painter and equable, despiser of wealth and death, this is my genius. Salvator Rosa.” His health began to deteriorate in 1662, but he continued to paint. Finally in 1669 he achieved a major goal when he was asked to paint an altarpiece for a chapel in a major Roman church. Rosa caught a fever in 1672, married Lucrezia the next year and died on March 15, 1673. (Rev. TNB 4/2013) Selected bibliography: Scott, Jonathan. Salvator Rosa: his life and times. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995. Wallace, Richard. The Etchings of Salvator Rosa. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979.