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Brush with martyrdom.

He was a seventh century baroque master who, more than any other artist of his day, evoked the counter-Reformation spirit by combining the physical reality of his subjects with the underlying mysticism of their religious experience.

Jusepe de Ribera was born in Spain in 1591 and moved to Italy at a young age. One of his finest works, The Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew, depicts the dramatic moment just before the saint was flayed--literally skinned alive. The painting is a powerful psychological study of the faith of the martyr and the admiration of his executioner.

In private hands for almost 200 years, The Martyrdom was acquired by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., through its 50th Anniversary Gift Committee. Since March 17, the painting has been on display at the Gallery as part of the exhibition Art for the Nations: Gifts in Honor of the 50th Anniversary of the National Gallery of Art.

Measuring 41 by 41 inches, the oil canvas is the first Ribera to enter the National Gallery's collection. Diane De Grazie, curator of southern baroque painting, has called it "the most significant seventeenth century Spanish painting to enter the collection in 30 years."

In this painting, Ribera concentrates less on Bartholomew's physical suffering than on his mystical experience just before death. His subsequent death by crucifixion was in keeping with the idea of the time, when the counter-Reformation was encouraging participation of the individual in the passion of Christ and his saints.

On leaving Spain for Italy, Ribera settled in Naples in 1616 where he was influenced by Caravaggio. He enjoyed a long and prosperous career with abundant commissions from King Philip IV of Spain, the Spanish and Neapolitan aristocracy and the numerous religious establishments in the city. His emotional renderings of saints in ecstacy, captured in a dramatic atmosphere, influenced all subsequent Neapolitan painters.

The Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew is significant for its remarkable state of preservation. The delicate glazes and layers of impasto have remained intact, giving the surface a lustrous, vibrating quality. Ribera's characteristically long, thick brushstrokes reflect the artist's virtuoso handling of paint and the mystical fervor that make his painting singularly important and secure his reputation as one of the greater painters of the baroque period.
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Title Annotation:Jusepe de Ribera's painting, The Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew
Author:Goethals, Henry
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Article Type:column
Date:Jan 1, 1991
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