Salvator Rosa  

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Salvator Rosa (1615 – March 15, 1673) was an Italian Baroque painter, poet and printmaker, active in Naples, Rome and Florence. German art historian Rudolf Wittkower called him an "unorthodox and extravagant" and a "perpetual rebel" and he is often seen as a proto-Romantic. His life and writings were equally colorful. Some sources claim he spent time living with roving bandits. English writer of gothic novels Ann Radcliffe was greatly influenced by his dramatic landscapes peopled with peasants and banditti. She managed to translate Rosa's visual feeling of awe and the sublime to the Gothic novel popular in the 18th and 19th centuries.


Artistic legacy

Rosa was indisputably a leader in that tendency towards the romantic and picturesque. It is an open question how influential his work was in the following decades or in following centuries. Wittkower rightly states that it is his landscapes, not his grand historical or religious dramas, that Rosa truly expresses a novel and innate spark; he may have dismissed them as frivolous capricci in comparison to his other themes, but these academically conventional canvases often restrained his rebellious streak. In general, in landscapes he avoided the idyllic and pastoral calm countrysides of Claude Lorrain and Paul Brill, and created brooding, melancholic fantasies, awash in ruins and brigands. The contrasts between the artists of his day is illustrated by the lines of Poetry written in 1748 (in The castle of indolence and other poems ): Whate'er Lorraine light touched with softening hue/ Or savage Rosa dashed, or learned Poussin drew. He influenced Gaspar Dughet's landscape style.

In a time when artists where often highly constrained by patrons, Rosa had a plucky streak of independence, which celebrated the special role of the artist. Our wealth must consist in things of the spirit, and in contenting ourselves with sipping, while others gorge themselves in prosperity. He refused to paint on commission or to agree on a price beforehand, and he chose his own subjects. He painted in order to be carried away by the transports of enthusiasm and use my brushes only when I feel myself rapt. This tempestuous spirit became the darling of British Romantics.

Influence on the gothic novel

Ann Radcliffe was greatly influenced by the Italian landscape painter, Salvator Rosa. Where Rosa applied brush strokes, Radcliffe wove words.

Salvator Rosa (1615-73), 17th century Italian landscape painter, created dramatic landscapes peopled with peasants and banditti. Like the works of Ann Radcliffe, who he heavily influenced, Rosa intended to create a feeling of awe and the sublime in the minds of his audience. The works of Rosa, together with those of less dramatic landscape artists, Claude Lorraine (1600-82), Gaspard Poussin (1615-75), Domenico Zampieri (1581-1641), were very popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. The landscapes of the Italian artist and architect Domenico Zampieri greatly influenced those of Claude and Poussin. All receive mention in the novels of Ann Radcliffe. --Keith Parkins [Jun 2005]

Negative criticism

"Another more celebrated fantasist was Salvator Rosa -- a man who, for reasons which are now entirely incomprehensible, was regarded by the critics of four and five generations ago as a great artist. But Salvator Rosa's romanticism is pretty cheap and obvious. He is a melodramatist who never penetrates below the surface. If he were alive today, he would be known most probably as the indefatigable author of one of the more bloodthirsty and adventurous comic strips." --Aldous Huxley in Prisons (with the Carceri Etchings by Piranesi).


Satires (Salvator Rosa)

The satires of Salvator Rosa deserve more attention than they have generally received. There are, however, two recent books taking account of them—by Cesareo[1], 1892, and Cartelli, 1899. The satires, though considerably spread abroad during his lifetime, were not published until 1719. They are all in terza rima, written without much literary correctness, but remarkably spirited, pointed and even brilliant. They are slashingly denunciatory, and from this point of view too monotonous in treatment. Rosa here appears as a very severe castigator of all ranks and conditions of men, not sparing the highest, and as a champion of the poor and down-trodden, and of moral virtue and Catholic faith. It seems odd that a man who took so free a part in the pleasures and diversions of life should be so ruthless to the ministers of these.

The satire on Music exposes the insolence and profligacy of musicians, and the shame of courts and churches in encouraging them. Poetry dwells on the pedantry, imitativeness, adulation, affectation a and indecency of poets—also their poverty, and the neglect with which they were treated; and there is a very vigorous sortie against oppressive governors and aristocrats. Tasso's glory is upheld; Dante is spoken of as obsolete, and Ariosto as corrupting.

Painting inveighs against the pictorial treatment of squalid subjects, such as beggars (though Rosa must surely himself have been partly responsible for this misdirection of the art), against the ignorance and lewdness of painters, and their tricks of trade, and the gross indecorum of painting sprawling half-naked saints of both sexes. War (which contains a eulogy of Masaniello) derides the folly of mercenary soldiers, who fight and perish while kings stay at home; the vile morals of kings and lords, their heresy and unbelief.

In Babylon ofrece, Rosa represents himself as a fisherman, Tirreno, constantly unlucky in his net-hauls on the Euphrates; he converses with a native of the country, Ergasto. Babylon (Rome) is very severely treated, and Naples much the same.

Envy (the last of the satires, and generally accounted the best, although without strong apparent reason) represents Rosa dreaming that, as he is about to inscribe in all modesty his name upon the threshold of the temple of glory, the goddess or fiend of Envy obstructs him, and a long interchange of reciprocal objurgations ensues. Here occurs the highly charged portrait of the chief Roman detractor of Salvator (we are not aware that he has ever been identified by name); and the painter protests that he would never condescend to do any of the lascivious work in painting so shamefully in vogue.

Works around Rosa

A number of biographies and fictionalizations of the life of Rosa exist:

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