Salvator Rosa

Born: 1615  - Death: March 15, 1673    Located in: The Caravaggio Room

Rosa was an Italian painter of the Baroque period, as well as a printmaker, poet and author of satires. He was active in Naples, Rome and Florence, and best known for his unconventional and romantic landscapes, as well as his rebellious nature. Rosa was indisputably a leader in that tendency towards the romantic and picturesque, called a proto-romantic. His landscapes avoided the idyllic and pastoral calm in the landscapes of Claude Lorrain (1600 – 1682) and Paul Bril (1554 – 1626), and created brooding, melancholic fantasies, awash in ruins and brigands. As a writer, Rosa was equally romantic in his descriptions and rebellious in his attitude towards convention.

Rosa began his training in Naples, notably with his future brother-in-law, Francesco Francanzano (1612 – 1657), who trained under the influential Spanish painter, Jusepe de Ribera (1591 – 1652), who Rosa may have trained with as well. It is also said that Rosa may have trained with the Naples painter, Aniello Falcone (1600 – 1665), who was also an apprentice to Ribera. After a brief trip to Rome, he returned to Naples and began painting his wildly romantic landscapes, eventually returning to Rome after 1638 painting one of his only altarpieces, Incredulity of Thomas.

Something of a Baroque polymath, Rosa pursued his talents in music, poetry, writing, etching and acting. He wrote and often acted in his own Satires, which in turn gained him the reputation of a rebel, pitting him against powerful people, such as the prominent Roman sculptor, Bernini (1598 – 1680). This partially drove him away from Rome to sanctuary in Florence, patronized by a Medici Cardinal; he started his Accademia dei Percossi, or Academy of the Stricken, were artists, playwrights and poets gathered, among them the poet-painter, Lorenzo Lippi (1606 – 1664). He then returned to Naples, where it is said he engaged in the Spanish revolt of Masaniello (1622 – 1647), with some works produced showing this influence.

He finally returned to Rome around 1649, painting historical works such as, Democritus amid Tombs, Death of Socrates, Regulus in the Spiked Cask, Justice Quitting the Earth and the Wheel of Fortune. The latter satirical work raised a storm of controversy, from which Rosa, endeavoring at conciliation, published a description of its meaning, but was nearly arrested. It was about this time that Rosa wrote his satire named Babylon, under which name Rome was of course his target. Among the pictures of his last years were the admired Battlepiece and Saul and the Witch of Endor, a work painted in 40 days, full of longdrawn carnage, with ships burning in the offing; Pythagoras and the Fishermen; and the Oath of Catiline.

His output in painting and satirical writing was large, and both respected and contested in its time. Rosa, the man, is romanticized in several fictional works, including novels and fully scored ballets.

(This text had been adapted from the entry on Salvator Rosa, available under GNU Free Documentation License.)

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