The composition of this rare drawing by the Ribera is both complex and powerful, demonstrating the intensity of the artist’s engagement with this highly emotive subject – one that he treated a number of times over the course of his career. Significant paintings of The Lamentation are in The National Gallery, London, the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, and the Certosa di San Martino, Naples, but with the exception of the last of these2, all Ribera’s painted depictions of the subject show the figures half-length, close to the picture plane, rather than as they appear in this drawing.

The closest compositional parallel is unquestionably with Ribera’s etching of the Lamentation (fig. 1), executed circa 1622-23. With its clear linearity, intensity of shading and use of the reed pen, the present drawing is typical of Ribera’s draughtsmanship of around the same time, but whether it was made as part of the process of developing the composition of the print or as a separate exploration of the subject remains unclear.

Fig. 1, Jusepe de Ribera, Lamentation over the Dead Christ, etching

Ribera was one of the most original draughtsmen of his time. Around 160 of his drawings are known today, a far greater number than is the case for most of his leading contemporaries working in Naples, such as Massimo Stanzione, Battistello Caracciolo or Aniello Falcone3, but still hardly a corpus sizeable enough to give a balanced image of his drawing style, or use of the medium. Just 16 of Ribera’s surviving drawings, for example, can be directly connected with any of his paintings, when many more such studies must at some point have existed, and another indication of the sparse survival of his drawings is the fact that this is one of just two known drawings by the artist on coloured paper, when his early biographer, the Neapolitan artist Onofrio Giannone (1698-after 1723), specifically referred to this as one of the techniques typical of Ribera’s drawings.4

1. In the 1983 sale catalogue, the numbering on the old mount was interpreted as that of Piancastelli.

2. Finaldi, op. cit., 2016, p. 247, fig. 96.1

3. Ibid., p. 16

4. Ibid., p. 18