Portrait of Saint

Oil on canvas, 84.5 x 66 cm

Private collection, Italy.

L.Salerno, written communication;
Nicola Spinosa, 15 October 2014;
C. Strinati, March 2015.

N. Spinosa in Lights and shadows, Caravaggism in Europe, exh. cat. edited by V. Rossi and M. di Martino, Lampronti Gallery, London, 29 June - 31 July 2015, p. 48-49 cat. n. 14.


The present painting - unpublished and in excellent state of preservation - is a partial replica, limited solely to the upper half of the Saint Roch at the Museo del Prado in Madrid , and differs from the latter in terms of its physiognomy. Saint Roch, along with  Saint James the Greater also at the Prado,  display the artist’s signature and completion date of 1631, and would have formed part of an Apostles series of full-length figures. The group was first held in the Royal Collection of Spain until 1657, when Philip IV, Duke of Austria moved it to the Escorial, before entering the Prado collection in 1837. The pair received considerable attention ever since the end of 18th century, when Ponz on seeing the works, described them as "grandiose por la fuerza, el espiritu y la verdad”.

The pair at the Prado demonstrates a turning point between Ribera's earlier naturalistic phase and his mature expressionist phase. The former (1626-1628) is exemplified by the Drunken Silenus del Museo di Capodimonte. Though this painting displays a certain degree of naturalism it lack the vigour characterised by his early works (1612-1620). Nevertheless in Ribera’s second phase his works became increasingly monumental with a heightened degree of verisimilitude, a balanced contrast of light and shade, and applied using thick brushstrokes.

This moment in Ribera's career was particularly significant for the increasingly prestigious public and private commissions he had received but also because of his successful influence exerted on the Neopolitan school of painters including, Filippo Vitale, Caesar and Francesco Fracanzano, the young Bernardo Cavallino and Francesco Guarino. His influence spread further to include southern painters, particularly the Sicilian Pietro Novelli, otherwise called il Monrealese, who came into contact with Ribera during his stay in Naples at the end 1631. A direct consequence of his growing success led to the demand to replicate his works, mainly those commissioned by esteemed collectors. As a consequence there now survives an abundance of paintings  often considered the product of a collaboration between the master and his workshop, or solely his collaborators according to his client's wealth.  

The Lampronti Gallery's Saint Roch is a fine example of this type of replica, and therefore displays many variations from the original prototype. On looking at the present painting, the expressive qualities of Saint Roch are the most striking, along with the lighter and more fluid brushstrokes. These features confirm the attribution to the master himself, and cancel out the hypothesis of assigning the painting to his workshop or Pietro Novelli. Further, these stylistic observations provide a framework for its completion date, to sometime after the prototype of 1631 and before his Neo-Venetian phase in 1634.

The intimate scale of this portrait suggests that it was intended for a private chapel, as a visual manifestation of the patron’s personal devotion to Saint Roch.

Nicolas Spinosa
Naples, October 15, 2014