Colnaghi Foundation Journal 04 - Page 81

Painting techniques in the work of Jusepe de Ribera: a study based on development of the artist’s style
Painting techniques in the work of Jusepe de Ribera: a study based on development of the artist’s style
In the artist’s final works, the new ambient luminosity
is accentuated by his rich chromatic range, as in the
wonderful Rest on the Flight into Egypt, ca. 1648 in the
Fondo Cultural Villar-Mir in Madrid. The lush blue
of the Virgin’s mantle was executed with high quality
lapis lazuli on top of a base of smalt cobalt, lead white,
and traces of carbon black (fig. 23).30 Ribera’s wealth of
technical resources, in this late phase, is evident in the
entire area making up the sky: here the artist used an
ochre base, perhaps searching for a different base colour,
as the reddish tone in the ground was unsuitable for the
cloudscape. This priming is left visible in many areas in the
sky, especially in the clouds, to increase the tonal variety.31
It is interesting to observe how Saint Joseph´s tunic
has suffered from chemical changes. The colour would
originally have appeared a lighter mauve, and the overall
chromatic range would have been more balanced.32 This
same chemical change, brought about by ageing, also
occurs in the lower layers of David and Goliath, where
X-rays reveal a voluminous mantle tossed by the wind.
The data provided by the present research on
Ribera’s Roman period reveal that, beyond the
obvious influences of Caravaggio’s style, the artist
had direct knowledge of very personal techniques
used by Caravaggio. Is it possible, then, to support
the hypothesis advanced by certain writers, that
the young Ribera might have known Caravaggio in
Rome and benefited from direct access to his painting
In these late works, pentimenti, when present, are no
more than very slight corrections to outlines of shapes
and anatomical details. In the Flight into Eg ypt, for
instance, the upper outline of the Child’s head has
been made smaller and the right leg of the angel on the
left has been altered (fig. 24).
Fig 23 / Rest on the Flight into
Egypt, oil on canvas, 252.5
x 201 cm, Madrid, Fondo
Cultural Villar-Mir.
Fig 24 / X-ray showing detail
of the Child in Fig. 23.
Jusepe de Ribera’s work is impressive for his bravura
displays of technical virtuosity occurring in works
produced at every stage of his career. Research into
his Roman period has enabled a better understanding
of his education as an artist, revealing how his
style developed and was influenced by the artistic
environment of Rome. There are of course still gaps
that need clarification, for instance his artistic output
during a short stay in Parma prior to his arrival in
Rome. More precise knowledge of his methods in
painting show that Ribera possessed a superb ability
to adapt his technique at all stages of his career.
Whether or not this was the case, it is clear that
Ribera’s technique continued to evolve throughout
his career. Even after establishing successful stylistic
and technical solutions employed over decades, he
embraced new stylistic vocabularies with which
he came in contact. In response to the challenge
posed by the arrival of young, talented artists on the
Neapolitan scene, he adapted his techniques and
explored new avenues, despite being aff licted by
illness and old age.
The study of a painter’s techniques and use of
materials brings us closer to understanding his way of
working and – perhaps to some degree – his character.
In the case of an artistic genius like Ribera – whose
painterly technique has not up until now been the
subject of extensive research – this study provides
crucial and enriching information, confirming that a
talented and creative artist’s career does not follow a
linear trajectory and culminate in a singular pictorial
mode. Rather, in the case of great artists like Ribera,
artistic evolution appears as a dynamic process
of incorporating new forms of expression while
continually drawing on a wealth of existing knowledge
and experience.


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