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Jusepe de Ribera

Saint Joseph


Jusepe de Ribera
Játiva, Spain, 1591 – Naples 1652


Saint Joseph


About 1635


Oil on canvas


71.8 x 61.9 cm


William J. Morrice Bequest, inv. 1943.815


Western Art

Born in Spain, Ribera spends his entire active career in Italy. He arrives in Spanish-ruled Naples between 1607 and 1614. Caravaggio’s presence profoundly impacted the Neapolitan school of painting. He then travelled to Parma, Rome, before settling in Naples. His works found critical appreciation and a ready market there, and he became a protégé of the Spanish viceroy, the Duke of Osuna. Caravaggio’s tenebrism and realism profoundly influenced the artist’s painting style. Ribera distinguishes himself from other Caravaggesque artists by his use of chiaroscuro (light-to-dark) contrast less to create theatrically dramatic scenes than a mysterious, spiritual context while maintaining a sober calm and balance in his compositions. This painting is typical of his devotional images presented in the Apostolado format (series of portraits of the twelve apostles) that had been developed earlier in Flanders and Spain. It infuses a remarkably spontaneous and portrait-like character to the subject: Saint Joseph, Mary’s husband, is shown as an elderly man holding a flowering branch. According to legend, when Joseph, among the Virgin’s suitors, placed a branch upon the altar, it burst into bloom. The entire focus of Ribera’s work is on the moving expression of the subject, who conveys wonder and gratitude for the miracle.

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