15 March 2018

Salvator Rosa – artist

Exciting Baroque painter inspired others

Salvator Rosa: a self-portrait (1645), which can  be seen at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Strasbourg
Salvator Rosa: a self-portrait (1645), which can
be seen at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Strasbourg
Salvator Rosa, a fiery and flamboyant character who was a poet and actor as well as an artist, died on this day in 1673 in Rome.

One of the least conventional artists of 17th century Italy, he was adopted as a hero by painters of the Romantic movement in the 18th and 19th centuries.

He mainly painted landscapes, but also depicted scenes of witchcraft, revealing his interest in the less conventional ideas of his age. These scenes were also sometimes the background for his etchings and the satires he wrote.

Rosa was born in Arenella on the outskirts of Naples. His father, a land surveyor, wanted him to become a lawyer or priest and entered him in the convent of the Somaschi Fathers.

Rosa was interested in art and secretly learnt about painting with his uncle and his brother-in-law, Francesco Fracanzano, who was a pupil of Jose de Ribera. Rosa later became an apprentice to Aniello Falcone, working with him on his battle scenes.

His own paintings featured landscapes overgrown with vegetation and beach scenes with caves, peopled with shepherds, seamen, soldiers and bandits.

After moving to Rome in about 1638, Rosa painted the first of his few altarpieces, the Incredulity of Thomas. He also wrote and acted in satires put on around the city, causing him to make a powerful enemy in the sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini, whom he offended.

Rosa's controversial painting Allegory of Fortune almost saw him arrested
Rosa's controversial painting Allegory
of Fortune
almost saw him arrested
Rosa then moved to Florence to work in a more comfortable environment, where he enjoyed Medici patronage and founded the Academia dei Percossi - the Academy of the Afflicted - for artists and writers.

In 1646 he returned to Naples, where he is thought to have sympathised with the insurrection of Masaniello as he painted a portrait of him.

Rosa went back to live in Rome in 1649, where he enjoyed success as a history painter and with his etchings. It was then that he painted his Allegory of Fortune, which seemed to imply that frequently artists received rewards that did not match their talent. This was considered controversial and he was nearly arrested.

Rosa is remembered as being determinedly independent, refusing to be constrained by patrons. It is said he would not paint on commission or to an agreed price, a stance that appealed to the British Romantic painters who came later.

His final work is believed to be Saul and the Witch of Endor, which is now in the Louvre.

Rosa was ill with dropsy for a few months and died in 1673. In his last moments he married a woman from Florence who had borne him two sons. He was buried in Rome in the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri.

The unconventional artist later inspired biographies, fictional accounts of his life, novels, a ballet, a piece of music by Franz Liszt, and an opera.

The view across Naples towards Vesuvius from the top of Vomero hill
The view across Naples towards Vesuvius
from the top of Vomero hill
Travel tip:

Arenella, where Rosa was born, is an area of Naples on the Vomero hill above the city, which was once considered a desirable place to get away from the chaos of the city. There is a street, Via Salvator Rosa and a metro stop named after the artist. Vomero is a middle class largely residential area of central Naples but has a number of buildings of historic significance. The most dominant, on top of Vomero Hill, is the large medieval fortress, Castel Sant'Elmo, which stands guard over the city. In front of the fortress is the Certosa San Martino, the former Carthusian monastery, now a museum.  Walk along the adjoining street, Largo San Martino, to enjoy extraordinary views over the city towards Vesuvius. 

Naples hotels from Expedia.co.uk

Salvator Rosa's tomb
Salvator Rosa's tomb
Travel tip:

Salvator Rosa’s tomb is in the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri, a 16th century church built to a design by Michelangelo inside the ruined frigidarium of the Roman Baths of Diocletian in the Piazza della Repubblica in Rome.

Rome hotels from Hotels.com

More reading:

How the Baroque artist Cerquozzi depicted the Revolt of Masaniello

The mysterious death of Caravaggio

The genius of Gian Lorenzo Bernini

Also on this day:

44BC: Julius Caesar is murdered

1738: The birth of criminal law philosopher Cesare Beccaria

1849: The death of hyperpolyglot Giuseppe Mezzofanti 

(Picture credit: Tomb by Giovanni dell'Orto via Wikmedia Commons)


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