Ribera was born in Xativa, near Valencia as Jusepe de Ribera (1591-1652). He studied with the Valencian painter, Francisco Ribalta (1565-1628) before heading to Italy; first Parma, Padua, and probably Venice and then Rome from 1613-16.
He came from a distinguished family. His father was a military officer acting as an administrative assistant in Naples, where he finally moved to avoid his creditors.
The Kingdom of Naples was a colony of Spain, ruled by Spanish Viceroys.
Ribera's Spanish nationality gained him access to the small Spanish ruling elite in the city, and to the merchant community, that included notable art collectors. This allowed Ribera to attract the attention of the Viceroy, the Duke of Osuna, who awarded him a number of major commissions.
Within a decade, Ribera was accepted as the foremost Neapolitan artist, being especially popular with expatriate Spanish collectors.
He soaked his brush in the blood of the saints and obsessively painted themes of martyrdoms and the macabre with an aggressive sense of greater truthfulness as he became of the leading contributors to the Vatican's propaganda campaign of Catholic Counter-Reformation Art.
However, Ribera did evolved from initial tenebrism to a more luminous and colorful style, with influences from the Venetian Renaissance and ancient sculpture.
Ribera was not afraid of themes that were profane, obscene or indecent. He found truth in the foul side of reality and myth and revealed to his viewers the gross, rude and lewd with amazingly intensity.
In Spain and Italy his work captured the beautiful and the terrible with equal success. He is the direct influence to Spain's great artist, Diego Velazquez (1599-1660) as well as paving the way for the Neapolitan Baroque movement in Naples in the second half of the 17th century.
Ribera's works are a master synthesis between devotion, expression, and the macabre, all composed with monumental beauty that is engaged with the secrets of Renaissance's grace and grandeur.