Jusepe de Ribera (Spanish, Játiva [near Valencia] 1591 - 1652 Naples)
Blind Old Beggar, ca. 1632
Signed lower left: Jusepe de Ribera español 163- (last digit illegible); inscribed on paper at left center: DIES ILLA / DIES ILLA
Oil on canvas
49 x 40 1/16 in. (124.5 x 101.7 cm)
R. T. Miller, Jr. Fund, 1955
Jusepe de Ribera's dramatically shadowed image of an old blind man and his young guide has ties to contemporary Spanish picaresque literature, but was primarily intended as a boldly naturalistic exhortation to Christian charity.
Ribera's Blind Old Beggar is loosely inspired by the popular Spanish picaresque novel Lazarillo de Tormes, first published anonymously in 1554.1 The novel's protagonists are a harsh and frequently cruel blind man, and his wily beggar boy, who was continually forced to outwit his master for his fair share of food and alms. Ribera's painting is not a direct illustration of the tale, and indeed reflects nothing of the brutality and mendacity of the fictional characters. It focuses instead on the larger humanity and moral impact of the beggars' solicitation of alms. A piece of paper attached to the blind man's cup at the left bears the inscription "DIES ILLA / DIES ILLA," echoing the second phrase in a segment of the Requiem Mass announcing the Last Judgment: "Dies Irae, Dies Illa" (Day of Wrath, That Day). The words are a potent reminder of the importance of charity in the final accounting of the Judgment Day.
The exhortation to charity in the Oberlin painting is found in other, related works by Ribera, most notably the eloquently ennobled Clubfooted Boy in the Louvre, dated 1642.2 In that painting, the boy holds a small piece of paper with the words "DA MIHI ELIMOSINAM PROPTER AMOREM DEI" (Give me alms for the love of God). As Sullivan has demonstrated, apart from their distant formal connections with contemporary picaresque literature, the Oberlin and Paris paintings are, first and foremost, exceptionally bold, naturalistic statements about Christian charity.3 The images relate directly to the contemporary Catholic Counter-Reformation insistence on the spiritual benefits of good works, and the necessity of performing charitable acts to achieve salvation (in refutation of the Protestant concept of predestination).The last digit of the date on the Blind Old Beggar is illegible, but the painting probably dates to about 1632 or slightly later. The same aged model was used for the blind man in Ribera's depiction of the Sense of Touch, dated 1632, in the Museo del Prado, Madrid.4 In addition, the arrangement of figures in the Oberlin painting is similar to that of the St. Joseph and the Young Jesus in the Prado, which has also been dated to about 1632.5 The Oberlin painting exhibits the somber, earthy tonalities and dramatic chiaroscuro of paintings from the early 1630s; during the course of the decade the artist began exploring brighter, more luminous colors and softer effects of light.A weak copy of the Oberlin painting, attributed to Valentin de Boulogne (ca. 1591-1632) and recast as an image of the aged Belisarius, was on the art market in 1969.6
M. E. Wieseman
Jusepe de Ribera was baptized in Játiva, near Valencia, on 17 February 1591. Nothing is known of his early training; he may have traveled to Italy (Naples?) as early as 1608-9. Ribera painted an altarpiece for the Church of San Prospero in Parma in 1611, and is documented in Rome from October 1613 through May 1616. The artist moved to Naples probably in mid-1616, although the possibility of an earlier, undocumented stay in Naples cannot be ruled out. Ribera married Caterina Azzolino, daughter of the Sicilian painter and sculptor Giovanni Bernadino Azzolino (ca. 1560-1645), in Naples in late 1616. The couple had six children. In 1626 Ribera was elected a knight in the Order of Christ of Portugal, although he was unsuccessful in obtaining a coveted Spanish knighthood. Ribera had many distinguished patrons among the Spanish viceroys in Naples, local religious orders, and aristocratic collectors that included the Genoese patrician Marcantonio Doria; Cosimo II de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany; and other prominent patrons throughout Italy, Sicily, and Spain. The artist died in Naples on 3 September 1652.Either in Rome or Naples, as a young artist Ribera came in contact with and was profoundly influenced by the tenebrous drama and radical naturalism of paintings by Caravaggio (1571-1610) and his followers. Ribera's style changed from this vigorous, often brutal realism to a gentler naturalism during the 1630s, possibly under the influence of Diego Velásquez (1599-1660), whom he met in 1630. Late works, demonstrating a heightened sensibility to light and color, reflect the influence of Venetian painting.
Sanchéz, Alfonso E., Nicola Spinosa et al. Jusepe de Ribera 1591-1652. Exh. cat., Castel Sant'Elmo, Naples, 1992. Ribera 1591-1652. Exh. cat., Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1992. Jusepe de Ribera 1591-1652. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1992.
Collection Dr. Carvalho, Château de Villandry, France (1927)Sale Tours, 19 November 1953, lot 76With Rosenberg and Stiebel, New York, from whom purchased in 1955.
Oberlin, Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, 1957. Exhibition of Paintings and Graphics by Jusepe de Ribera. 5 February - 5 March. Cat. no. 2.
Richmond, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 1961. Treasures in America. 13 January - 5 March. Unnumbered cat.
Indianapolis, John Herron Museum of Art, 1963. El Greco to Goya. 10 February - 24 March (also shown at Providence, Rhode Island School of Design, Museum of Art). Cat. no. 66.
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 1966. Treasures from the Allen Memorial Art Museum. 21 July - 11 September. No cat.
Fort Worth, Kimbell Art Museum, 1982-83. Jusepe de Ribera lo Spagnoletto. 4 December - 6 February. Cat. no. 12.
Mayer, August L. Jusepe de Ribera. Leipzig, 1923, p. 20 (as a painting of a Beggar, mentioned as formerly in the collection of the eighteenth-century Spanish collector, Azara; considered lost).
Trapier, Elizabeth de Gué. Ribera. New York, 1952, p. 77.
Milicua, José. Review of Ribera, by Elizabeth de Gué Trapier. In Archivo Español de Arte 52 (1952), p. 297 (as workshop, but this view retracted by author in litteris, September 1959).
Angulo, Diego. "The Blind Old Beggar by Ribera." Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 14, no. 2 (1956-57), pp. 59-61.
Buck, Richard D. "Oberlin's Ribera: A Case History." Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 14, no. 2 (1956-57), pp. 62-68.
Rogers, Paul. "The Blind Man and his Boy." Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 14, no. 2 (1956-57), pp. 49-58 passim.
"Exhibition of Paintings and Graphics by Jusepe de Ribera, Catalogue." Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 14, no. 2 (1956-57), p. 73, no. 2.
Stechow, Wolfgang. "Jusepe di Ribera." The Oberlin Alumni Magazine (May 1957), pp. 12-13.
Gaya Nuño, A. La Pintura española fuera de España. Madrid, 1958, p. 280, cat. no. 2329.
Hamilton, Chloe. "Catalogue of R. T. Miller, Jr. Fund Acquisitions." Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 16, no. 2 (Winter 1959), cat. no. 36; no. 3 (Spring 1959), ill. p. 228.
Treasures in America. Exh. cat., Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, 1961, pp. 31, 60.
Gaya Nuño, A. "Peinture Picaresque." L'Oeil 7, no. 84 (December 1961), p. 54.
Carter, David G. In El Greco to Goya. Exh. cat., John Herron Museum of Art, Indianapolis, 1963, cat. no. 66.
Wethey, Harold E. "Spanish Painting at Indianapolis and Providence." Burlington Magazine 105 (1963), p. 208.
Stechow, Wolfgang. Catalogue of European and American Paintings and Sculpture in the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College. Oberlin, 1967, pp. 127-29, fig. 73.
Felton, Craig M. "Jusepe de Ribera: A Catalogue Raisonné." Ph.D. diss., University of Pittsburgh, 1971, pp. 201-2, cat. A-30 (as dated 1632).
Brown, Jonathan. In Jusepe de Ribera, Paintings and Drawings. Exh. cat., Princeton University Art Museum, 1973, pp. 72-73.
Konecny, Lubomir. "Another 'postilla' to the Five Senses by Jusepe de Ribera." Paragone 285 (1973), p. 89, n. 8.
Sullivan, Edward J. "Ribera's Clubfooted Boy: Image and Symbol." Marsyas 19 (1977-78), p. 18.
Spinosa, Nicola, and Alfonso E. Pérez Sanchéz. L'Opera completa del Ribera. Milan, 1978, p. 102, no. 64.
Felton, Craig. In Jusepe de Ribera lo Spagnoletto. Exh. cat., Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, 1982-83, pp. 132-33 no. 12, and p. 211.
Haraszti-Takács, Marianna. Spanish Genre Painting in the Seventeenth Century. Budapest, 1983, pp. 210-11, cat. no. 176.
del Bravo, Carlo. "L'Armonia del Ribera." Artibus et historiae 17 (1988), pp. 174, 179 ill.
Stokstad, Marilyn, and Santiago Alcolea Blanch. A Catalogue of Spanish Painting in Public Collections of the United States. Barcelona, 1989, p. 32.
Pérez Sanchéz, Alfonso E. In Jusepe de Ribera 1591-1652. Exh. cat., Castel Sant'Elmo, Naples, 1992, pp. 187 (under no. 1.44) and 254 (under no. 1.87).
The original canvas, a coarse, loosely woven linen, was lined probably in the early nineteenth century; the original tacking margins were removed at this time. In 1955 the painting was transferred to a new canvas using a wax-resin adhesive, and mounted on an ICA-type spring stretcher.7 The dark brown ground layer is quite thick, to compensate for the open weave of the original canvas. Dark tones in the painting are formed with only thin washes of paint over the brown ground; whites and flesh tones are built up using a thick, opaque paste that retains the marks of the artist's thick-bristled brush. There is no evident use of transparent glazes. Fairly extensive retouching is present throughout the painting, predominantly in the dark areas, but also associated with some losses in the flesh tones. Abrasion is apparent in the more thinly-painted dark areas. There is a short vertical line of damage through the boy's cheek, possibly associated with a crease in the original canvas. The painting was surface cleaned in 1977 and again in 1982.
1. On the painting's connection with Spanish literary traditions, see Paul Rogers, "The Blind Man and his Boy," Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 14, no.2 (1956-57), pp. 49-58 passim; and Edward J. Sullivan, "Ribera's Clubfooted Boy: Image and Symbol," Marsyas 19 (1977-78), pp. 17-18.
2. Oil on canvas, 164 x 93.5 cm, inv. M.I. 893. The relationship between the two works was noted by Diego Angulo, "The Blind Old Beggar by Ribera," Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 14, no. 2 (1956-57), pp. 59-60; and elaborated on by Edward J. Sullivan, "Ribera's Clubfooted Boy: Image and Symbol," Marsyas 19 (1977-78), p. 18. Another related painting is the half-length Old Beggar in the collection of the Earl of Derby, Knowlsley, in which the figure holds a paper inscribed "VA SEÑOR MIO COMPATISCA LAVE / CCIA Y U E LE CATIVE ESTRADE" (O sir, have pity on this old man [who walks the] difficult road); see Sullivan, loc. cit.
3. Edward J. Sullivan, "Ribera's Clubfooted Boy: Image and Symbol," Marsyas 19 (1977-78), pp. 18-19.
4. Oil on canvas, 125 x 98 cm, Madrid, Museo del Prado, inv. 1112; the connection was first observed by Elizabeth de Gué Trapier, Ribera (New York, 1952), p. 77.
5.Oil on canvas, 126 x 100 cm, Madrid, Museo del Prado, inv. 1102; see Diego Angulo, " The Blind Old Beggar by Ribera," Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 14, no. 2 (1956-57), p. 60; and Craig Felton, in Jusepe de Ribera lo Spagnoletto (exh. cat., Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, 1982-83), p. 133. Less convincingly, Angulo (op. cit.) suggested a date of 1637 or 1638 for the Oberlin painting.
6. Oil on canvas, 115 x 98 cm; sale Rome (Asti Vendite Internazionale), 10-13 December 1969, lot 43 (as attr. Valentin de Boulogne, Belisario Mendico; with inscription "Date Obolum Belisario" as a variation).
7.For a report of the 1955 treatment, see Richard D. Buck, "Oberlin's Ribera: A Case History," Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 14, no. 2 (1956-57), pp. 62-68.