Colnaghi Foundation Journal 02 - Page 40



40
Francisco Ribalta’s Vision of Father Simó: British taste and the legacy of Sebastiano del Piombo in Spanish painting
There is a painting of 1864 by the Valencian artist,
Francisco Domingo Marques, El Beato Juan de Ribera en la
expulsión de los Moriscos (fig. 7), that shows how historical
memory of this event remained vivid.
The episcopal activities of Juan de Ribera were also
controversial. His lack of episcopal promotion beyond
Valencia, his failure to reach the cardinalate, and the
relatively recent date of his canonization, despite earlier
interest in his cause, may be a reflection of the fact that
Ribera proved unusually responsive to the spiritual
needs of his flock. To quote Benjamin Ehlers, instead
of a rigid enforcement of the decrees of Trent, “he
engaged rather in a process of exchange, or interplay,
between official activity and popular religion.”28 Ribera
had indeed engaged closely with local holy men and
women in Valencia – figures such as Jeronimo Simó,
– and his interest in and support of such visionary
religious practices attracted the interest of the
Inquisition from the very beginning of his episcopal
career, at Badajoz.
Francisco Ribalta’s Vision of Father Simó: British taste and the legacy of Sebastiano del Piombo in Spanish painting
41
visually his spiritual program. Despite his early
promise, Morales might never have achieved any
success outside Extremadura without the appointment
of Juan de Ribera to the diocese of Badajoz. Luis de
Morales deserves far greater attention than he has
received, if only because of their relationship – one in
which Ribera used the art of Morales as a vehicle to
express his own spirituality and to spread it to a wide
audience.32 There are several episodes of the Passion
that Morales painted repeatedly, such as the Christ
Carrying the Cross or Ecce Homo, many of them derived
from Sebastiano del Piombo.
RIBERA AND THE AFTERLIFE
OF SEBASTIANO DEL PIOMBO IN SPAIN
In his artistic patronage, Ribera supported certain artists
in particular – the paradigm being Luis de Morales from
whom Ribera had commissioned work while at Badajoz
– but, at Valencia, Ribera gathered about him a much
larger circle of artists.29 The paintings he commissioned
from Morales and others later in his career concentrate
largely on episodes from the Passion of Christ, such as
the Carrying of the Cross. Furthermore, as Ford had
already noted and as will be discussed here in greater
detail, these works are derived either directly, or are
at one remove from, paintings by the early sixteenthcentury veneto-roman artist, Sebastiano del Piombo.
Works of this kind became widespread in Spain and
show the extraordinary impact that Sebastiano’s
paintings had there.
Here I shall discuss just one episode that concerns our
argument: Christ Carrying his Cross. The significance
of each individual Christian bearing his own cross
in imitation of Christ was derived from the Gospel
according to Saint Matthew, and was central to a
number of late medieval devotional texts.33 In the most
popular of them all, Thomas à Kempis’s Imitatio Christi,
written in the early fifteenth century, there appears the
following striking passage:
Ribera’s commissions focused not only on the Passion,
but in particular on specific episodes of bodily anguish
in which the suffering of Christ was made manifest
to the faithful. In these brutal works, the various ways
in which the body of Christ was torn, bloodied and
bruised in the course of his Passion are made very
clear and were intended to provoke a visceral response
from the pious viewer. Perhaps because of this aspect
of his work, despite Luis de Morales’s painterly skill
and subsequent success with collectors, the amount of
research devoted to his career has been relatively sparse
– at least in the Anglophone world. The same applies
to Francisco Ribalta, who after his move to Valencia in
1598, became the leader and founder of a flourishing
artistic scene in the city nurtured by Juan de Ribera.
Fig. 7 / Francisco Domingo
Marqués, The Blessed Ribera
and the Expulsion of the
Moriscos, 1864, oil on canvas,
146 x 189 cm, Valencia, Museu
de Belles Arts.
Fig. 8 / Luis de Morales, Christ
Carrying the Cross, ca. 1567, oil
on panel, 81 x 62 cm, Valencia,
Real Colegio Seminario de
Corpus Christi.
Antonio Palomino, writing in 1724, entitled his brief
life of Morales “el divino Morales”, the first use of this
particular titular.30 According to Palomino, Morales
was so called because “everything he painted had a
sacred subject.” Gabriele Finaldi has added more
recently that Morales deserved the title because of
“his success in expressing the fervid and impassioned
spirituality of Spanish society.”31 In Morales, Juan
de Ribera had found the first artist suited to render
Why then do you fear to take up the
Cross, which is the road to the kingdom?
....There is no salvation of soul, nor hope
of eternal life, save in the Cross. Take up
the Cross, therefore, and follow Jesus, and
go forward into eternal life. Christ has
gone before you, bearing His Cross.34
This subject was also given a significant role in the
Contemptus Mundi, a work that is revealingly subtitled
mensosprecio del mundo y imitación de Cristo, and was the first
Castilian translation of the Imitatio Christi.
This translation, the first published work of the
Dominican, Fray Luis de Granada, was issued in
Ribera’s native Seville in 1536.35 It would run to over
thirty editions by the end of the sixteenth century,
and Fray Luis became a life-long correspondent and
confidant of Archbishop Ribera.36 Christ Carrying
the Cross also played a large role in Jesuit spirituality,
which drew on many of the same traditions from which
the Imitatio Christi had emerged. Indeed, as mentioned
above, when Richard Ford first acquired Ribalta’s
painting, he had assumed that it represented Saint
Ignatius’s well-known vision of Christ Carrying the
Cross. Juan de Ribera as patriarch was closely allied to
the nascent Jesuit order and assisted its spread in the
Kingdom of Valencia against established opposition.37

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