When I lived in Xàtiva in 2001, the town where my husband was born, I walked past the statue of José de Ribera every day. Our flat 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 called in the Valencian language. 

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

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

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

At the age of about 15, Ribera left Xàtiva and moved to the city of Valencia, where he had relatives. Here he was taken into the workshop of the Catalan master painter Francisco Ribaltá, who was the first follower in Spain of Caravaggio's austere Tenebrist style.

Ribera had other plans and found himself in Caravaggio's cradle in 1611, aged only 19. Once in Italy, where he was already a highly respected painter, Ribera never wanted to return to Spain.

This is not to say that he was not always proud to be Valencian, as he occasionally signed his paintings with the term "Setabense", referring to the 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 leadership of Federico Zuccari with the aim of elevating the work of all "artists", including painters, sculptors and architects, above that of ordinary craftsmen, Ribera moved to Naples in 1616.

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

Ribera soon achieved great fame and was very active. He painted works for religious patrons and nobles such as the Dukes of Osuna, Monterrey and Alba.

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

Even today, viewers are amazed at the photographic reality of his paintings and can hardly believe that he captured the emotions, feelings and affections of his figures with bold brushstrokes and not with a camera.

His belief in humanity made the poorest and humblest people on the street into models for saints, philosophers and prophets in his paintings, giving them intelligence and warmth.

It is well known that skin colour and hands are the most difficult to paint, but not for Ribera. No one like him succeeded in depicting the qualities of the skin, the shaping of the face and hands, human frailty and the representation of elderly people.

Due to the predominant influence of classical Roman and Greek mythology, Ribera found a wealth of subjects that stretched his talents to the limit.

His biggest client was, of course, the Catholic Church, which used his super-realistic works as effective propaganda for its Counter-Reformation efforts.

To this day in Xàtiva, a proud sculpture by Luis Gilabert (1891) commemorates Ribera in the Plaza del Españoleto, where the clinic of the same name is located. There is also the José de Ribera High School and two paintings in the Casa de l'Ensenyança which is now the 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

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