Lot 24
  • 24

JUSEPE DE RIBERA, CALLED LO SPAGNOLETTO | A Girl with a tambourine (The Sense of Hearing)

5,000,000 - 7,000,000 GBP
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  • Jusepe de Ribera, detto Lo Spagnoletto
  • A Girl with a tambourine (The Sense of Hearing)
  • signed and dated centre right: Jusepe de Ribera/ español F. 1637
  • oil on canvas, in a Spanish 18th-century frame
  • 59.5 x 45.5 cm.; 23 3/8  x 17 1/2  in.


Private collection, Paris, until 1930; With Spanish Art Gallery, London (Tomas Harris Ltd.);

Where acquired by Mr and Mrs F.A. Drey, London, on 23 March 1937;

Thence by descent to their granddaughter;

By whom sold (‘The Property of a Lady’), London, Sotheby’s, 3 December 1997, lot 54;

Acquired in 1998 for the present collection.


London, Spanish Art Gallery (Tomas Harris Ltd.), From Greco to Goya, 1938, no. 9, reproduced; The Arts Council of Great Britain, Exhibition of Spanish Paintings, Southampton, Derby, Leicester, Cardiff, Aberdeen, 1945–46, no. 16, reproduced;

London, National Gallery, Spanish Paintings, 11 February – 23 March 1947, no. 24, reproduced, pl. XXI;

Edinburgh, National Gallery of Scotland, Spanish Paintings: From El Greco to Goya, 19 August – 8 September 1951, no. 33;

Stockholm, Nationalmuseum, Stora spanska mästare, 12 December 1959 – 13 March 1960, no. 82;

Barnard Castle, Bowes Museum, Neapolitan, Baroque and Rococo Painting, l June – 12 August 1962, no. 7, reproduced;

Barnard Castle, Bowes Museum, Four Centuries of Spanish Painting, 17 June – 17 September 1967, no. 35;

London, Hayward Gallery, Salvator Rosa, 17 October – 23 December 1973, no. 113;

London, National Gallery, El Greco to Goya: The Taste for Spanish Paintings in Britain and Ireland, 16 September – 29 November 1981, no. 19, reproduced;

Fort Worth, Kimbell Art Museum, Jusepe de Ribera, lo Spagnoletto, 15911652, 4 December 1982 – 6 February 1983, no. 20, reproduced in colour;

London, National Gallery, on loan 1991–1997 (L.583);

Naples, Castel Sant’Elmo, Jusepe de Ribera 15911652, 27 February – 17 May 1992, no. 1.67, reproduced in colour;

Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado, Ribera 1591–1652, 2 June – 16 August 1992, no. 82, reproduced in colour;    

New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Jusepe de Ribera: 15911652, 18 September – 29 November 1992, no. 46, reproduced in colour;

Cremona, Centro Culturale Santa Maria della Pietà, I cinque sensi nell'arte. lmmagini del sentire, 21 September 1996 – 12 January 1997, no. VI.4, reproduced in colour;

Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado, Los Cinco sentidos y el arte, 27 February – 4 May 1997, no. VI.4, reproduced in colour;

Newcastle, Laing Art Gallery, on loan 27 July 1998 – 27 July 1999 (No. 1998.666);

London, Dulwich Picture Gallery, Murillo: Scenes of Childhood, 14 February – 13 May 2001, no. 3, reproduced in colour.


Advertisement in The Illustrated London News, 3 December 1938, p. 1035, reproduced; Exhibition of Spanish Paintings, N. MacLaren (ed.), exh. cat., National Gallery, London 1947, no. 24, reproduced plate XXI;

Spanish Paintings: From El Greco to Goya, E.K. Waterhouse (ed.), exh. cat., National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1951, no. 33;

E. Harris, ‘Spanish Painting from Morales to Goya in the National Gallery of Scotland’, The Burlington Magazine, October 1951, vol. 93, p. 314 (as ‘an unusually pleasant subject for this artist’);

J.A. Gaya Nuño, La pintura española fuera de España (historia y catálogo), Madrid 1958, p. 279, no. 2318;

G. Kubler and M. Soria, Art and Architecture in Spain and Portugal and their American dominions, 15001800Pelican History of Art, 1959, p. 241, reproduced plate 123 (detail);

Stora spanska mästare, C. Nordenfalk (ed.), exh. cat., Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, 1959, no. 82;

J.A. Gaya Nuño, ‘Peinture picaresque’, L'Œil, no. 84, December 1961, p. 54;

Neapolitan, Baroque and Rococo Painting, T. Ellis (ed.), exh. cat., Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, 1962, no. 7, reproduced;

T. Crombie, ‘Naples in the North’, Apollo, July 1962, LXXVI, p. 396, reproduced fig. 2;

E. Harris, ‘Exposición de pinturas y dibujos napolitanos en el Museo Bowes de Barnard Castle’, in Archivio español de arte, vol. 36, 1963, pp. 131–33, reproduced;

E. Young in Four Centuries of Spanish Painting, exh. cat., Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, 1967, no. 35;

C. Felton, Jusepe de Ribera: A Catalogue Raisonné, Ph.D. Thesis, University of Pittsburgh, 1971, vol. I, pp. 243–44, cat. no. A-54;

R. Causa, ‘La pittura del Seicento a Napoli dal naturalismo al barocco’, in Storia di Napoli, vol. V, part 2, 1972, reproduced fig. 279;

M. Kitson in Salvator Rosa, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 1973, pp. 68–69, no. 113;

T. Mullaly, ‘Painting in Focus’, in The Daily Telegraph, 6 March 1976, p. 11;

N. Spinosa in L’opera completa del Ribera, A.E. Pérez Sánchez and N. Spinosa (eds), Milan 1978, p. 111, no. 114, reproduced in colour, plate XXXIII;

F. Bologna, Gaspare Traversi, nell’illuminismo europeo, Naples 1980, pp. 52–53, reproduced fig. 32;

A. Braham in El Greco to Goya. The Taste for Spanish Paintings in Britain and Ireland, exh. cat., National Gallery, London 1981, p. 63, no. 19, reproduced fig. 71;

C. Felton in Jusepe de Ribera, lo Spagnoletto (15911652), C. Felton and W.B. Jordan (eds), exh. cat., Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, 1982, pp. 160–61, no. 20, reproduced in black and white and in colour on p. 17;

M. Haraszti-Takács, Spanish genre painting in the seventeenth century, Budapest 1983, pp. 27, 209, no. 171, reproduced plate 69;

F. Benito Doménech, Ribera 15911652, Madrid 1991, p. 120, reproduced in colour on p. 122;

N. Spinosa in Jusepe de Ribera 15911652, A.E. Pérez Sánchez and N. Spinosa (eds), exh. cat., Castel Sant’Elmo, Naples 1992, p. 223, no. 1.67, reproduced in colour on p. 225;

N. Spinosa in Ribera 15911652, A.E. Pérez Sánchez and N. Spinosa (eds), exh. cat., Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 1992, p. 49, p. 314, no. 82, reproduced in colour on p. 316;

N. Spinosa in Jusepe de Ribera 15911652, A.E. Pérez Sánchez and N. Spinosa (eds), exh. cat., Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1992, p. 127, no. 46, reproduced in colour; and pp. 126–28 under nos 45 and 47;

C. Baker and T. Henry, The National Gallery Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 1995, p. 578, no. L.583, reproduced in colour;

I cinque sensi nell'arte. lmmagini del sentire, S. Ferino-Pagden (ed.), exh. cat., Centro culturale Santa Maria della Pietà, Cremona, 1996, p. 150, no. VI.4, reproduced in colour on p. 151;

Los Cinco Sentidos y el Arte, S. Ferino-Pagden (ed.), exh. cat., Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 1997, p. 178, no. VI.4, reproduced in colour on p. 179;

M. de Cervantes, Exemplary Stories, transl. L. Lipson, Oxford 1998, reproduced in colour on the cover;

M. Scholz-Hänsel, Jusepe de Ribera 1591–1652, Cologne 2000, p. 122, reproduced in colour fig. 108;

N. Spinosa, Ribera, L'opera completa, Naples 2003, pp. 174, 243 n. 129 and 305, no. A182, reproduced in black and white and in colour as a detail on p. 131 and on the cover;

N. Spinosa, 'La pittura napoletana con scene di genere', in Gaspare Traversi, napoletani del ’700 tra miseria e nobiltà, N. Spinosa (ed.), exh. cat., Castel Sant’Elmo, Naples 2003, p. 14, reproduced on p. 15; 

Murillo: Scenes of Childhood, X. Brooke and P. Cherry (eds), exh. cat., Dulwich Picture Gallery, London 2001, p. 27 and p. 84, no. 3, reproduced in colour p. 85;  

Murillo, Kinderleben in Sevilla, X. Brooke and P. Cherry (eds), exh. cat., German ed., Alte Pinakothek, Munich 2001, p. 45;

N. Spinosa. Ribera. L'opera completa, Naples 2006, 2nd ed., pp. 174, 243 n. 129 and 334, no. A 204, reproduced in black and white and in colour as a detail on p. 131;

N. Spinosa, Ribera. La obra completa, Madrid 2008, pp. 207, 295, n. 125 and 420, no. A 225, reproduced in black and white and in colour as a detail on p. 152;

J. Milicua, 'Los Cinco sentidos', in El joven Ribera, exh. cat., Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2011, p. 146, reproduced in colour p. 147, fig. 64;

J. Portús, Ribera, Barcelona 2011, p. 95, reproduced in colour fig. 71.




The following condition report is provided by Henry Gentle who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: Jusepe Ribera Young girl with tambourine Oil on canvas, in a period gilt and painted frame with some loss. The original canvas is lined; the lining is approximately 70-80 years old and provides sufficient tension across the picture plane. The paint layer is generally well preserved; there is a significant repaired damage and consequential paint loss in the top left corner, confined to the background in this area but affecting a small area of the hair of the girl. Previous minor repaired paint loss along old stretcher marks can be detected. Under raking light the paint layer appears slightly raised in a typically gridded appearance but is stable and secure; there is very minor abrasion of some of the 'peaks' of these raised areas. The textured paint to the flesh tones, in particular is well preserved and in a good original state; some of the background paint is thinly applied and the pale ground colour is apparent through it. Generally, the restoration is not well colour matched and is excessive to the damage it covers. A slight fading to the dark red glaze of the girl's tongue gives her an ambiguous expression. The textured highlights are well preserved, particularly to those areas of the facial features and hands, the white shirt, tambourine and dress. Overall, in a good original state.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

One of Ribera’s most celebrated paintings, this arresting depiction of a girl singing a tune while tapping her fingers on a tambourine embodies his powers of expressive characterisation. Painted from life, the girl’s likeness pulsates with character and vitality. By transforming an unprepossessing everyday subject into a personification of hearing, Ribera, like no artist before him, adopts a direct, naturalistic approach to create an ingenious representation of sound. Signed by the artist ‘Ribera español’, with characteristic loyalty to his Spanish roots, and dated 1637, Girl with a tambourine encapsulates Ribera’s inimitable contribution to the imagery of music-making by merging allegory and genre, as well as portraiture, into one remarkable image. In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century musicians feature increasingly as subjects in painting. Although Ribera’s starting point was the naturalism of Caravaggio through first-hand knowledge of the artist’s works, as well as his contacts with the northern Caravaggesque artists who were working in Rome while Ribera was there, his painterly vision evolved in significant ways from the single-figure genre paintings of Caravaggio (fig. 1). In Girl with a tambourine a sense of great vivacity prevails. Ribera’s evocation of sound is highly compelling and his ability to capture a smile – one of the most difficult expressions to catch – results in a sympathetic portrayal rather than an idealised or caricatured stereotype. Ribera’s model appears to have stepped in from Naples’ bustling streets. He conjures the lively presence of a girl singing by rendering her full-face in an utterly convincing way and with remarkable economy of means. The drawn outline of her open mouth is defined by brushwork of the utmost confidence, while the richly textured brushwork around her eyes gives further expression to her face. From the frilled collar and cuff to the tip of her white feather, Ribera balances white accents against prevailing darker tones enriched with vivid reds. Strong shadows offset carefully observed details designed to catch the light: the flashing edges of the tambourine’s metal plates, the sheen of the girl's unscrubbed fingernails, the wet shine of her lips, which, together with the stray strands of hair, give a live quality to the performance.

The counterpart to Girl with a tambourine is the Laughing drinker with a bottle, a work also known as The Drunkard, which was once in the Spanish royal collection and is now in a private collection in Spain.1 It depicts a man singing while holding a bottle of wine and is thus a personification of the Sense of Taste. Of similar dimensions to Girl with a tambourine, it too is signed and dated 1637. Martin Soria was the first to observe a connection between the two, relating them both to a now incomplete set of the Five Senses.2 Four of the five contenders have since been identified: a third painting, unsigned but of similar dimensions, Boy with a Pot of Tulips (Nasjonalgaleriet, Oslo), which could represent the Sense of Smell, has been associated with the group, although doubt has been cast on this;3 and a fourth composition, known only through copies, depicts an old woman with a spindle to personify the Sense of Touch.4 The Sense of Sight has not been identified.

Girl with a tambourine – Ribera’s only autograph allegory of Hearing known today – is not the first occasion that he tackles the subject of the Five Senses. During his early years in Rome he made his reputation with a first set of Five Allegories of the Senses for a Spanish patron, probably Pedro Cosida from Zaragoza. Of these, four are extant, while the fifth, the Sense of Hearing, is known only through copies (though recently a candidate for the missing original was proposed).5 The paintings of Sight, Smell, Taste and Touch, now dispersed between the Franz Mayer Museum, Mexico City; the Abelló Collection, Madrid; the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford; and the Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, all depict male sitters, each one behind a table displaying objects that relate to the sense portrayed. Praised by Giulio Mancini for their beauty, these meditations on the senses were of ground-breaking importance and serve as a key reference point for reconstructing Ribera’s early production prior to his move to Naples in 1616. Highly influential, his allegories differed from those of his contemporaries in their innovative treatment of subject matter. His simple, direct approach to the theme, popularized in the Netherlands during the late sixteenth century, was revolutionary when viewed against treatments by northern artists of classicizing figures in courtly settings. Ribera’s Sense of Smell, for example, which would conventionally have been alluded to with flowers, is evoked instead by a beggar dressed in rags, an onion in his hands, his eyes streaming. Shortly after painting this first series, Ribera moved to Naples, a Spanish territory, where he established himself as the city’s leading painter. There he enjoyed the patronage of successive viceroys and officials, who sent many of his works to Spain. Successful and critically acclaimed, he painted Girl with a tambourine at the height of his career.

Hailed as one of Ribera’s greatest achievements in the art of characterization, Girl with a tambourine has been described as ‘rude, robust, and rugged, … intensely High Baroque, vehemently proclaiming enjoyment of life’.6 Ribera’s natural, accessible style was first discussed in the context of the picaresque tradition in Spanish painting by Juan Antonio Gaya Nuño as an important manifestation of the developments that resonated through art, social history and literature, most tellingly in the writings of Cervantes (1547–1616).7 Ribera’s vivid images of low-life subjects are central to the evolution of genre painting in European art; and already within his own lifetime, his depictions of ordinary people subject to his compassionate scrutiny, paved the way for the masterpieces of observation of Velázquez (1599–1660) and Murillo (1617–1682). Indeed, Girl with a tambourine anticipates the paintings of children produced by Murillo a few decades later, such as Spring as a flower girl, c. 1660–65 (Dulwich Picture Gallery, London) and the Smiling boy leaning on a sill, 1670s (National Gallery, London; fig. 2). Although both were adept at capturing a passing moment with their probing gaze, Ribera’s genius lies in his unrivalled skill in bringing emotional intensity, painterly theatricality and expressive handling to his subjects. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Girl with a tambourine, which stands out as the archetypal image of his creative power.

1 Oil on canvas, 59 x 46 cm. It was exhibited in 1854 with the collection of the Infante Don Sebastián Gabriel de Borbón y Braganza; Spinosa 2003, p. 305, no. A181, reproduced in colour as a detail on p. 130.
2 The painting is dated 1637, not 1638, as stated by Soria.
3 The attribution of the Oslo painting was seriously questioned by both Nicola Spinosa and Alfonso Pérez-Sánchez, and by Craig Felton before them, when it was exhibited alongside the other paintings in Naples in 1992; see Naples 1992, p. 223, no. 1.68. Pérez-Sánchez suggested the Oslo painting may be by Aniello Falcone (1607–56) and no longer considered it to be part of the series; New York 1992, p. 128, no. 47. In 1997 Milicua revisited the matter; although recognizing that the lighting and handling are indeed different from the other two, he argues that in terms of its invention and strong naturalism the Oslo picture is worthy of Ribera and was originally part of the set. He notes that the Oslo painting, like the present work, was also in the Drey family collection at an earlier point in its history (Madrid 1997, p. 178).
4 Of the two versions known, the one recorded in the van Berg collection, New York, is in damaged state and is not judged to be autograph; and the other, known since it came to light in a sale in 1973 at Leblanc-Duvernoy, Auxerre, is deemed by Nicola Spinosa to be a modest replica; see Spinosa 2003, p. 363, no. C34; both are reproduced in Pérez Sánchez and Spinosa 1978, p. 136, nos 371 and 372. A picture of Cleopatra bitten by an asp, also signed and dated 1637 (formerly in the collection of Lionel Harris, London, and now in a private collection in Spain) has been proposed as an alternative candidate for the Sense of Touch; J. Milicua in Cremona 1996–97, p. 150, and then more tentatively in Madrid 1997, p. 178; reproduced in Spinosa 2003, p. 302, no. A169.
5 Spinosa 2003, pp. 258–59, nos A30–33; for one of the better copies of the Sense of Hearing, see Spinosa 2003, p. 345, no. B2, reproduced in colour on p. 49. Gianni Papi identified a Sense of Hearing in the Koelliker collection, Milan, as the one missing from the set, although this is not universally accepted; see G. Papi in Caravaggio e l'Europa, exh. cat., Milan and Vienna 2005–06, p. 278, reproduced p. 279.
6 Soria 1959, p. 241.
7 Gaya Nuño 1961, pp. 53–61.