José or Jusepe Ribera


Datos principales

Il Spagnoletto
Fecha nacimiento 
Lugar nacimiento 
País nacimiento 
Fecha muerte 
Lugar muerte 


José de Ribera is the main exponent of tenebrism within the Spanish Baroque. He was born in Játiva (Valencia) in 1591. According to the baptismal certificate, held on 17th February in the church of Santa Tecla, he was given the names Joan Josep. His parents, Simón Ribera and Margarita Cuco, formed a humble family; his father was in fact a cobbler. The couple had two other children, Vicente Miguel and Juan. Simón Ribera was widowed in 1597 and remarried in 1607. As the son of a craftsman, Ribera would have initiated his artistic training in a local workshop. He might then have moved to Valencia to continue studying under a more renowned master. Given the similarity in their style, he is believed to have been [Ribalta's#pintor_en#3115] pupil. However, it is important to note that Ribalta's tenebrist period started around 1615 so that if Ribera did attend his workshop, he would only have learnt the Mannerist style that had been brought over to Spain by the Italian artists who had come to decorate the [Escorial#MONUMENTOS#9]. The earliest indication of Ribera's presence in Italy comes from an 18th century manuscript titled "Descrizione dei famosi pittori", which contains a reference to a payment made for a "Saint Martin" for the parish of San Prospero in Parma. The payment was made on 11th June 1611. Ribera was only twenty at the time and had already received an important commission in a highly prestigious artistic centre. Sadly the painting has disappeared but prints and copies remain that suggest the importance it had at the time. All this would imply that Ribera moved to Italy around 1609, possibly going first to Naples where Caravaggio'spintor_en series which clearly shows that the artist had assimilated the naturalistic style which prevailed in Rome at that time. Flemish inflences are also evident, probably resulting from the fact that a significant number of Flemish artists lived in the Via Margutta, with whom Ribera was good friends. In May 1613 he became a member of the Accademia di San Luca which indicated certain prestige. He received good commissions but his disproportionate spending, characteristic laziness, bohemian lifestyle and huge debts resulted in his move to Naples where he had received a commission by Marco Antonio Doria. This happened in 1616 and he did not waste the opportunity the new town offered him. In Naples, a Spanish viceroyalty at that time, he joined the Caravaggesque style painter Gian Bernardo Azzolino's workshop, although he only stayed with him for a short time. Legend claims that Ribera was in the street drawing with such mastery that Azzolino decided to test his skill. The test was to paint a head from life and Ribera passed with flying colours. Azzolino was so impressed that he offered him his daughter in marriage. The marriage contract was arranged on the 10th November and the wedding was held sometime between 11th November and 25th December, in the Neapolitan church of San Marco dei Tessitori. The couple had five children: Antonio Simone (1627), Jacinto Tomás (1628), Margarita (1630), Anna Luisa (1631) and Francisco Antonio (1634). A short time after the wedding, Ribera opened his workshop with which he made his mark on Naples. Thanks to the constant support of the Spanish Viceroys he received numerous commissions. His first important commission was by Don Pedro Téllez Girón, Duke of Osuna, for the collegiate church of Osuna in Spain, from which the famous [Calvario#CUADROS#1969] (the Calvary) stands out. The painting's success increased the number of commissions, and Ribera'a clients came from the Spanish and Italian nobility and some Neapolitan churches. In 1624 the Duke of Osuna died and the Duke of Alcalá succeeded him as viceroy. Ribera was named court painter and received the protection of the Viceroy. At the same time he received various important commissions, with his [St Jerome and the Angel of Judgement#CUADROS#10762] for the church of the Trinità delle Monache being especially noteworthy. Caravaggio's influence is still apparent in his work, as can be seen in The Martyrdom of St Andrew. His workshop became the most prestigious in Naples and he contracted a significant number of assistants, including [Luca Giordano#pintor_en#2048], who was known as "Luca fa presto" for his speed and the ease with which he imitated his master. Ribera worked for no more than six hours in the morning, dedicating the afternoons to social business. He lived surrounded by luxury and he was described in the following way: "well groomed arrogance, although not very impressive in height, dark with a flushed complexion, his forehead half bare, black eyes with fleshy eyelids, below the arch of thick eyebrows; a strong snub nose, wide cheeks, a short neck and very thick, wiry hair". He signed as "Español" but his shortness - "small with short limbs" according to De Dominici - lead him to be known affectionately as "Spagnoletto". The 1630s were Ribera's most productive period, carrying out important commissions such as series of philosophers and apostles and the strange portrait of [Magdalena Ventura#CUADROS#10774]. In all these works he continued with his tenebrist style inspired by Caravaggio. At the end of 1633 or the beginning of 1634 the Count of Monterrey commissioned Ribera to do a painting that would be fundamental in the artist's pictorial development. It was a series of works for the Augustinian convent church in Monterrey, Salamanca, out of which the Immaculate Conception is especially notable. In this large canvas the influence of the [Carracci#pintor_en#1511] is evident, marking a new period in Ribera's style, with its more colourful palette and the diffused luminosity that recalls the [Venetian School#ESCUELAS#78]. Ribera's brilliant career continued, and the large number of commissions he received allowed him to maintain his luxurious lifestyle. The commissions increased in 1644 when he received the honour of being named Knight of the Order of Christ by Pope Innocence X. The activity in Ribera's studio was frenetic. However, the following year he suffered an illness that forced him to give up painting for a while. In 1647 the anti-Spanish uprising broke out in Naples. This working class movement had its roots in the hunger, poverty and high taxes the humble classes were forced to pay. The leader of the disturbances was the fisherman Masaniello and initially he had the support of the upper and middle classes, but they soon abandoned the movement because of the fear that it would degenerate into a social conflict that would threaten their privileges. An army was sent from Spain to crush the rebellion under the command of Don Juan José of Austria, Philip IV's illegitimate son. In February 1648 he entered the city to re-establish Spanish authority and to suppress the rebels. He named the Count of Oñate as Viceroy and left for Sicily in September 1648. During his stay in the town, Ribera painted an excellent [equestrian portrait#CUADROS#10851] of him. Legend has it that Don Juan José was captivated by the artist's daughter Anna's beauty, and that they had a little girl who was brought up in the convent of the Decalzas Reales in Madrid. According to Pérez Sánchez it was not Ribera's daughter who was seduced by Don Juan José but rather his niece María Rosa, the daughter of his brother Juan who had always lived with the artist. The last years of Ribera's life were marked by illness and poverty, which forced him to ask his clients for loans. His relationship with the prior of the Carthusian monastery of San Martino was particularly turbulent. He had worked for the monastery in 1637 and around 1650 he received an important commission which included the [Comunión de los Apóstoles#CUADROS#10727] (the Communion of the Apostles). In these works he returned to his earlier tenebrist style, achieving images full of vivacity, brimming with Venetian style luminosity. His unknown illness and his economic difficulties contributed to his death on 3rd September 1652, according to the entry in the "Libri dei Difunti della Parrochia di Santa Maria della Neve". He was buried in Mergoglino, in the church of Santa Maria. The economic difficulties of the later years forced his widow to ask for a loan of 300 ducats at an interest of 9%, mortgaging the family's property (23rd November 1652). In December the artists' children wrote a letter to the papal nuncio denouncing the monks of the Carthusian monastery of San Martino, holding them responsible for their father's death as a result of the upsets caused by not having received the money stipulated for the Comunión de los Apóstoles. According to the contract Ribera was to receive one hundred ducats per figure. The painting contained thirteen figures which meant the total price should have been 1300 ducats, but he had only received 900. The case was concluded on 9th June 1665, with the verdict that the Carthusians had to pay 315 ducats to Caterina Azzolino.

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