Salvator Rosa was an Italian Baroque painter known for his unorthodox and extravagant style. A proto-Romantic, he left behind a lasting influence on the later development of romantic and picturesque traditions. A highly versatile personality, he pursued several other forms of art along with painting. His interests included music, poetry, writing, etching, and acting. Born near Naples, he became interested in arts at a young age. His father wanted him to become a lawyer or a priest but the young man’s heart was set on art. He learnt the basics of painting from his maternal uncle and later studied under his brother-in-law Francesco Fracanzano who was a pupil of the famed artist Ribera. He then apprenticed under Aniello Falcone for a while and even helped him complete some of his battlepiece canvases. He soon embarked on an independent career as an artist and focused on painting landscapes which earned him much acclaim. A creative individual, he also ventured into writing and acting at the same time. Unlike most of the other artists of that time, Rosa was fiercely independent and had no powerful patron. He had a rebellious streak and adopted an unconventional style of painting that earned him both admirers and critics.
Childhood & Early Life
Salvator Rosa was born in Arenella, in the outskirts of Naples, in 1615. His mother, Giulia Greca Rosa, was a member of one of the Greek families of Sicily and his father, Vito Antonio de Rosa, was a land surveyor. He had several siblings.
He developed an interest in arts at a young age. However, his father wanted him to pursue a more respectable profession and pressurized him to become a lawyer or a priest. He even had the boy admitted into the convent of the Somaschi Fathers.
Salvator was very independent minded and secretly started working with his maternal uncle Paolo Greco to learn about painting. His brother-in-law Francesco Fracanzano was also a painter and Salvator took lessons from him too. Then he started apprenticing with Aniello Falcone.
His father died when Salvator was 17, plunging the family into financial crisis. The next few years were a struggle for him yet he remained devoted to his passion for the arts.
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During his apprenticeship with Falcone, Salvator Rosa helped Falcone complete his battlepiece canvases. There his work got noticed by Lanfranco who advised the young artist to move to Rome. Rosa stayed in Rome from 1634-36.
Then he returned to Naples and started painting the wild and haunting landscapes that would eventually earn him much acclaim. His landscapes were characterized by an uncanny melancholy; they were overgrown with vegetation or marked by jagged beaches and mountains.
Once again he went to Rome in 1638-39. There he painted his first and one of his few altarpieces, the ‘Incredulity of Thomas’ for the Chiesa Santa Maria della Morte in Viterbo.
He was a versatile personality, with interests in a variety of artistic fields. Along with being a painter, he also pursued music, poetry, writing, etching, and acting. He wrote and acted in a masque during a Roman carnival play, and soon gained much popularity. But he also earned some enemies due to his bitter criticism of others’ techniques.
He relocated to Florence in 1639. He spent several years there during which he sponsored many poets, playwrights, and painters. He also made many influential friends during this time and gathered a few true pupils. He painted prolifically and also wrote four satires: Music, Poetry, Painting, and War.
He returned to Rome in 1649 and diverted his focus to large scale paintings and concepts considered unusual for 17th century painters. He had an independent streak and was rebellious in nature. He never believed in conforming to accepted norms and this was reflected in his art.
Some of his unconventional paintings include ‘Democritus amid the Tombs’, ‘The Death of Socrates’, ‘Regulus in the Spiked Cask’, and ‘Justice Quitting the Earth and the Wheel of Fortune’. A few of his painting created considerable controversy and he was almost arrested.
He was a prolific artist, and his unusual and melancholy style of painting had a long lasting influence on the development of Romanticism across Europe. Along with landscapes, he was also known for his historical, biblical and mythological scenes. He began etching in his later life and completed a number of successful prints.
Salvator Rosa is best known for his unusual landscapes that had a dark and melancholy feel to them. He painted overgrown vegetation, ragged mountains, moss-laden trees, and picturesquely wild scenes of nature that radically departed from the serene sceneries painted by other famous artists of his era. His landscapes had a significant impact on the 19th century school of English landscape painting.
Personal Life & Legacy
While in Florence he met a woman named Lucrezia with who he became involved in a long term relationship. The couple had two children. On his deathbed, Salvator Rosa married her on March 4, 1673.
He died on March 15, 1673 after suffering from dropsy for a while. By the time of his death he had amassed a small fortune.