Jusepe de Ribera
Saint Francis of Paola
Oil on canvas (relined). 74.5 x 62 cm.
Remains of a signature on the centre right: J. Old inventary number "51" centre left.
The present work is one of two variations on the depiction of Saint Francis of Paola painted by Jusepe de Ribera around 1640 (Spinosa, op. cit., p. 352). The saint is depicted in a brown monk's habit, his reddened eyes turned upwards towards the heavens. He holds a card in his left hand that reads “CHARITAS”, the motto of his order, and a staff in his right. When we compare the work to the prototype of the other variant (private collection, Geneva), we notice some small but significant differences. The figure in the image in Geneva is turned more towards the right, whereas here the saint is depicted frontally. Most noticeably, in the Geneva canvas, the saint wears his hood pulled far down over his face, concealing his eyes. In the present work the hood falls back as the saint's head turns, allowing Ribera to illuminate his face in a bright light and display those artistic qualities for which he was most admired. The saint's expressive face is modelled with powerful brushstrokes and Ribera's distinctive chiaroscuro is also exhibited in the right hand with which he grips the staff.
The large number of replicas and copies of Ribera's depictions of Saint Francis testify both to the admiration of the painter and to the wide veneration of the saint. Saint Francis of Paola lived in Southern Italy and was admired for his strict asceticism. The saint was born in Paola in Calabria in the 15th century and withdrew to live as a hermit when he was a young man. A community of monks gathered around him, becoming known as the “Ordo Minimorum”, or Order of Minims. Their rule was established in 1474, and their founder canonised in 1519. The present work was painted in 1640, at the close of one of the most productive decades in Ribera's career. He was the leading painter in Naples, and received numerous important commissions, for example for the Charterhouse of San Martino in Naples, the Buen Retiro in Madrid, from the Duke of Alcala, and the Count of Monterey.
Hofrat von Urbantschitsch, Wien, um 1900 (verso Klebeetikett). – Auction Helbing, Munich, 4.7.1922. - Englische Privatsammlung.
Nicola Spinosa: Ribera. L´opera complete. Naples 2006, p. 352, no. A257, illustrated