Colnaghi Foundation Journal 04 - Page 64

Painting techniques in the work of Jusepe de Ribera:
a study based on development of the artist’s style
The intention of this article is briefly to introduce
a wide-ranging research project on the painting
techniques of Jusepe de Ribera (Xátiva, 1591-1652). It
is an extract from the findings of a project which began
in 2000 and is still in progress at the Madrid office and
laboratory of Icono I&R.
Ribera is, without a doubt, one of the most exciting
artists in Spanish-Italian painting, not only because of
his exceptional technical resources and development,
but also on account of the new biographical and
stylistic information that has come to light since 2002
through the work of Gianni Papi and Nicola Spinosa.1
The opportunity for analysis and participation in
the restoration of several important paintings from
Ribera’s time in Rome (as well as works from his later
periods) has yielded a large amount of technical data,
bringing unprecedented understanding of his working
practices and materials. This significantly adds to and
enriches our knowledge of Ribera, whose work was
of outstanding importance to the later development of
Spanish and Italian painting during the high Baroque.
The current technical research on Ribera’s work has
been structured according to three main stages of his
artistic career. The early period, in Rome, 1610-1616,
following a brief sojourn in Parma, was probably
extremely successful. During this period, Ribera was in
close contact with the first wave of Caravaggism, the
most profound stylistic influence in Rome at this time.
In his second, mature period, 1616 to ca. 1644, Ribera
was a permanent resident in Naples where he became
a leading and highly influential artist. In the third, late
period, ca. 1644 to his death in 1652, he was faced
with illness and competition from new “neo-Venetian”
trends, as well as the emergence and growing success of
promising painters like Giovanni Lanfranco, Massimo
Stanzione, and Artemisia Gentileschi. In this last decade,
Ribera’s style shifted towards greater luminosity, richer
and more vibrant colour ranges, and more flowing and
transparent brushwork.
Ribera was at this time a young painter assimilating a
variety of influences and techniques in the dynamic
artistic atmosphere of early seventeenth-century Rome.
In every work from this period examined to date, he
used the typical Roman priming, ochre-brown in colour,
bound with oil and made of ochre earths, calcite, and
lead white, with the occasional trace of carbon black
(fig. 1).2 The usual application seems to have been in two
or three coats and was perhaps a commercially prepared
mixture, ready-made and affordable for painters,
since this same priming has been detected in works by
Caravaggio and his followers in Rome, as well as by
other painters active in this milieu.3
Little is known about how an underdrawing would
have been executed over this dark priming, but it
has been possible to find traces of drawing done in
lead white with a brush beneath the paint layer in
the Susanna and the Elders (ca. 1613) at Galería Caylus,
Madrid (fig. 2) – a highly unusual technique in
Italian painting at the time and rarely detected in
seventeenth-century Spanish painting.5


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