Colnaghi Foundation Journal 04 - Page 68



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Painting techniques in the work of Jusepe de Ribera: a study based on development of the artist’s style
MATURITY. AT THE PEAK OF HIS POWERS: NAPLES
Fig. 6 / Cross section of a
sample from David and
Goliath showing one of
the most frequently used
primings throughout
Ribera’s work in Naples.
The first important commission received by Ribera
following his arrival in Naples in 1616, came
in 1618 through the viceroy, Don Pedro Téllez
Girón y Guzmán, 3rd Duke of Osuna. The duke
commissioned a series of paintings destined for
the collegiate church of Osuna.12 From this date
onwards, logically enough, the typical Neapolitan
priming is found in his works, differing from those
used in the Roman milieu, with red and brown
earths present as well as the occasional red lead
(minium) which was probably added as a siccative
to oil media (fig. 6).13 The colouring is therefore
much browner and more reddish. This type of
priming was ideal for the emphatically-tenebrist
style which Ribera adopted in his early years
working in Naples, though there are also works
from the 1630s where mixtures based mainly on
red earths are found.14
During the first twenty years of his work in Naples, he
continued to represent the ancient Greek philosophers
dressed as beggars, as he had begun to do during
his Roman period. One particular commission of
these types of figures, a series of philosophers for Don
Fernando Afán de Ribera y Enríquez, 3rd Duke of
Alcalá and viceroy in Naples, should be highlighted.
The series was painted between 1629 and 1631 and
enabled Ribera to display his extraordinary talents
for veristic rendering of threadbare fabrics, textures,
facial expressions and – what was to become his most
characteristic achievement in painting – the highlyrealistic representation of skin and anatomy. We have
been able to examine and analyze various works of
this type, including several examples of the same
iconographic model, some of which possibly formed
part of the duke’s original series (figs. 7, 8, & 9).15
The same skills in handling paint are evident in
the representation of saints and apostles. Here, too,
Ribera drew on repeated established models, as, for
instance, in the Penitent Saint Peter (fig. 10),16 a recent
addition to the artist’s oeuvre. X-ray studies of these
works reveal an important technical feature: the
execution is confident, free of pentimenti, and shows
the artist following a previously thought out and
established design (fig. 11). It is probable that the
repetition of models in such series required the use
of drawings and cartoons, ready to be transferred to
new canvases on which Ribera occasionally adjusted
his formats, since the ‘standard’ dimensions of
paintings could vary.
In contrast to the repetition evident in these successful
series of beggar-philosophers, in his other works
Ribera carried out a process of perfecting models
through carefully considered pentimenti. An example
of this occurs in the adjustments made to the arm and
forearm of David with Goliath’s Head, a magnificent
work executed around 1630 (figs. 12 & 13).17
Fig. 7 / Thales of Miletus, oil
on canvas, 117.5 x 95.5 cm,
Madrid, Private Collection.
Fig. 8 / Archimedes, oil
on canvas, 130 x 101 cm,
Private Collection.
Fig. 9 / Crates of Thebes, oil
on canvas, 123.2 x 97.5 cm,
Private Collection.

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