Private collection, Bari, acquired in the 1960s;
By inheritance to the present owner.
This Saint Jerome is thought to be the picture by Ribera recorded in reverse in his etching of 1621. Ribera made two etchings of Saint Jerome in the wilderness, interrupted by the sound of the angel's trumpet; the first, dated 1621, shows this composition reversed (fig. 1).2 The principal difference between this painting and the print is that the quill pen and the sharpening tool are inverted: the quill pen in the painted raised hand is changed in the print to the sharpening tool. This supports the hypothesis that this painting is an original composition by Ribera rather than an enlarged copy in reverse of the engraved composition. The second etching, also datable to about 1621, shows the angel in its entirety, blowing on a curvilinear – rather than a straight – trumpet.3 Some years earlier Ribera sent a painting of the same subject to the Colegiata in Osuna, Spain,4 but the print discussed above relates more closely to the present work. The Osuna painting differs from the latter in showing the saint semi-reclined (rather than seated) and interrupted from contemplating a skull (rather than writing, as here) by the head and torso of an angel (and not the more mystical presence of arms and hands only).
Spanish by birth and Italian by adoption, Ribera was in Rome in 1606 and is documented there until his move to Naples in 1616. He quickly established himself as painter to the Spanish Viceroys and as the leading artist in the city, succeeding in securing important commissions from, among others, the 3rd Duke of Osuna, Viceroy of Naples. The Saint Jerome for Osuna, discussed above, and the present work may be seen as precursors to Ribera’s later magisterial treatment of the same subject of 1626 now at the Museo di Capdimonte, Naples.5 A copy in reverse of the present painting is recorded in the Accademia dei Lincei, Rome, lending further weight to the identification of the present work as a lost original.6
Craig Felton first identified the painting as a work by Ribera, accepting it as fully autograph. In his opinion the Saint Jerome must predate the engraving of 1621 and so he proposes a date of execution at the end of the 1610s or the very beginning of the 1620s. In his view the etching derives from the painting, in accordance with Ribera’s usual practice. Professor Nicola Spinosa has also endorsed the attribution of the Saint Jerome to Ribera, describing it as a unique work. He proposes a date in the early 1620s, comparing it to works painted the previous decade for the Duke of Osuna.7 Prof. Spinosa will be including the Saint Jerome in his forthcoming catalogue raisonné of Ribera’s œuvre. We are grateful to them both for their comments.
1 ‘...una rarissima tela dello Spagnoletto [Giuseppe Ribera], ritraente S. Girolamo, su quale sacrilega mano di dozzinal pittore per sciocco consiglio osò fare oltraggio di restaurarlo: fortuna che le carni restarono illese!’. No record of such a composition has been found in the Basilica, which underwent extensive restoration from the late nineteenth century.
2 J. Brown, Jusepe de Ribera: Prints and Drawings, exh. cat., Princeton 1973, p. 67, no. 4.
3 Brown 1973, no. 5.
4 179 x 139 cm. Reproduced in N. Spinosa, Ribera, Naples 2003, p. 21 and p. 250, no. A4.
5 262 x 164 cm. Reproduced in Spinosa 2003, p. 64 and p. 268, no. A56.
6 A.E. Pérez Sánchez and N. Spinosa, L'opera completa di Jusepe de Ribera, Milan 1978, p. 133, no. 309, reproduced on p. 132.
7 Seen in person on 23 November 2017.
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