A TRIBUTE TO A VICTORIOUS VALENCIANO - José de Ribera (1591-1652)

When I lived in Xàtiva back in 2001, the town where my husband was born, I walked by the statue of José de Ribera everyday. Our apartment was on the same street as the Basilica and the old hospital, where my husband was born, and at the other end was the statue of José de Ribera or Jusepe as he is know in the Valencian language.

José de Ribera was also born in Xàtiva but in 1591. His father's name was Simón Ribera, a shoemaker by profession, and his mother was Margarita Cucó. While there are many documentary and bibliographical sources detailing many aspects of Ribera's life and work, there is nothing about his childhood and youth in Xàtiva.


Report by Karla Darocas (SpainLifestyle.com KarlaDarocas.com)

No doubt that Xàtiva would have been a very inspirational place to grow up in, for a youth with a talent for drawing and painting. The city at this time was the second most important place in the Valencian province and it was full of churches and convents with masterful altarpieces.

At the age of apprenticeship, 15 years or so, Ribera left Xàtiva to move to Valencia city where he had relatives. Here he was entered into the workshop of the Catalonian master painter Francisco Ribaltá, who was the first follower in Spain of the austere tenebrist style Caravaggio, without ever visiting the land of his hero, Italy.

Ribera had other plans and in 1611, at only 19 years, Ribera found himself in the cradle of Caravaggio. Once in Italy, where he was already a highly regarded painter, Ribera never wanted to return to Spain.

This is not to say that he was not always proud to be Valenciano, because on occasion he would sign his paintings with the term "Setabense", referring to people who populated the ancient Iberian city (Pre-Roman) of Setabis, which of course became Xàtiva.

After a few years in Rome as a member of the Academy of San Lucas, an association of artists in Rome founded in 1577, under the directorship of Federico Zuccari, with the purpose of elevating the work of all "artists" included painters, sculptors and architects, above that of mere craftsmen, Ribera moved to Naples in 1616.

Under the protection of the Crown of Spain, Naples proved to be his destiny. Here he married Catalina Azzolino, daughter of a wealthy dealer and painter, with whom he had at least five children.

Ribera soon rose to great fame and activity painting works for religious patrons as well as the nobles such as the Dukes of Osuna, Monterrey and Alba.

Driven by a deep interest and study of Antiquity and the Renaissance, Ribera blew minds with his great mastery of drawing, painting and etching.

Today, viewers are still amazed at the photographic reality of his paintings and find it hard to believe that it was with vigorous brush strokes and not a camera that captured the emotions, feelings and affections of his characters.

His faith in humanity elevated the poorest and humblest people in the street to stardom in his paintings as models for saints, philosophers, and prophets, giving them intelligence and cordiality.

It is a know fact that skin tone and hands are the hardest to paint, but not for Ribera. No one like him has been able to show the qualities of the skin, the molding of the face and hands, human decrepitude and the representation of the old.

A consequence of the prevailing influence of classical Roman  and Greek mythology culture, Ribera found a plethora of subjects to paint that pushed his talents to the maximum showcasing to the world that the realm of beauty to depths of the grotesque were all fair game to his brush.

Of course his biggest client was the Catholic Church who contracted his super realistic works as powerful propaganda for their Counter-Reformation efforts.

To this day, Xàtiva remembers Ribera with a proud sculpture by Luis Gilabert (1891) in the Plaza del Españoleto, where the health clinic of the same name is also located. There is also the José de Ribera Secondary School as well as two paintings in the Casa de l'Ensenyança - Museu de Belles Arts (Museum of Fine Arts) Xàtiva. There are also two institutional art awards named after the local hero: the national painting and the biennial of engraving.

El Salvador by Ribera at the Casa de l'Ensenyança - Museu de Belles Arts Xàtiva