Abbildungen der Seite

attracted an admiring crowd, and the Viceroy, observing the unusual concourse from a balcony, sent out to inquire its cause, and on learning it, desired that the picture should be brought for his inspection. It was accordingly placed before him, and he was so struck with its extraordinary merits, that he bought it at once ; and learning that the artist was a Spaniard, immediately appointed him the court-painter, with a salary of sixty doubloons a month. Thus elevated by genius, and supported by powerful patrons, Ribera soon became absolute dictator in all matters connected with Art in Naples, and we wish we could say that he made a good use of his power. But, on the contrary, history has recorded that he terribly abused it, and made it a means of gratifying personal malice and paltry jealousy. Indeed the state of Art in Naples during his time, furnishes perhaps the most disgraceful scene in the whole annals of painting.

Ribera was the acknowledged head of the Naturalists, and determined to prevent, by every means in his power, the interference of artists belonging to other schools, and especially to the Eclectic, with anything connected with painting that was to be executed in Naples. His principal followers and partisans in this nefarious plot were two ruffianly painters—Bellisario Correnzio, a Greek, originally formed in Venice in the school of Tintoretto, and Giambattisto Caracciolo. The former of these had a fertile imagination and wonderful rapidity of hand; but his disposition was insolent and overbearing, and he was known, through jealousy, to have poisoned Luigi Roderigo, the most promising and amiable of his pupils. He had also been guilty of another disgraceful action which caused the death of one of Italy's greatest artists. Annibale Caracci had arrived at Naples in 1609, charged with the decoration of the churches of Spirito Santo and Jesù Nuovo ; and, in order to give a specimen of his powers, had painted a small but beautiful picture of a Madonna, which was submitted to the judgment of the Greek and his faction, and pronounced by them to be an inferior production. The tasteless Jesuit fathers, however, transferred the commission from the great Bolognese to his envious detractor, upon which the former, justly indignant at their breach of good faith and at the slight offered to his genius, set out for Rome in the hottest season of the year, and soon after his arrival died from the effects of fatigue and exposure. Such were the heads of the “Fazione dei pittori," or factions of the painters, who made the brightest era of Neapolitan art, so far as regards the talents of those who signalized it, the darkest and most disgraceful, on account of the scandalous artifices and infamous crimes with which it was polluted.

A committee had been appointed by the Neapolitans, with the title of “ Cavalieri Deputati,” to superintend the decorations of the great chapel of St. Januarius, the patron saint of Naples, which contains the two celebrated flasks of the congealed blood of the saint, whose annual liquefaction tests the faith and inflames the piety of the inhabitants of that “fidelissima città.” The Cavaliere Arpino was first chosen for the task; but he had no sooner commenced it, than he was assailed with abuse, and all kinds of persecutions and menaces, by Ribera and his two ruffianly associates, and at length driven to take refuge with the Benedictines of Monte Cassino. The celebrated Guido succeeded him ; but

he fared no better than his predecessor, his servant being waylaid and severely beaten by hired bravoes, and he himself warned, that if he ventured to proceed with the decoration of St. Januarius, a similar fate was in store for him, upon which he judged it prudent to throw up his commission, and fly from Naples. Gessi, an able scholar of Guido, then applied for and obtained the post of honor and danger, and arrived in Naples accompanied by two assistants named Battista Ruggieri and Lorenzo Menini. Scarcely however had these assistants arrived, when they were inveigled on board a galley, which immediately set sail and carried them off, nor could their master, though he made repeated inquiries, both at Rome and Naples, obtain any intelligence of their fate. He then, like his predecessors, abandoned his task in disgust and despair. Ribera and his friends now thought their triumph complete, and indeed the frescoes were now assigned by the committee to Corenzio and Caracciolo, and the altar-pieces reserved for their chief, Ribera ; but before they could begin their labors, the committee, repenting of their weak compliance, withdrew the commission from the ruffianly triumvirate, and assigned it to the famous Domenichino, who reluctantly accepted the perilous task, for which he was to receive the munificent reward of 100 ducats for every whole-length figure, for every half-length 50 ducats, and for each head 25 ducats. He was also further guaranteed by the committee, and by the Spanish Viceroy, the Count Monterey, against the violence of Ribera and his faction. But all was in vain ; he was not, indeed, openly assailed like his predecessors, but the voice of detraction and malice was constantly raised against him. His character was calumniated, his talents undervalued, ashes were mixed with his colors, and no means left untried to render his existence miserable and drive him from his post. The Viceroy was induced to commission pictures from him for the King of Spain, which were carried to the palace half finished, and there retouched and altered by Ribera at his pleasure, and then, in that mutilated condition, sent off to Spain. Thus exposed to perpetual persecutions and misrepresentations, Domenichino left his noble picture of “The Martyrdom of St. Januarius," and fled to Rome; but he was induced to return by his employers, and additional precautions taken to secure his safety. After his return, he made considerable progress with his work, but at length sunk under the renewed persecutions to which he was exposed, and died in 1641, not without strong suspicions of poison. It is some satisfaction to know that Ribera and his gang did not, after all, gain possession of the chapel, for which they had striven with such determination, and loaded their souls with such a weight of crime. Caracciolo died the same year as Domenichino, Correnzio two years later, and Ribera executed only a single altar-piece from the history of St. Januarius; while a stranger Lanfranco, a pupil of the Eclectic school-executed the fine frescoes of the dome, and finished the chapel.

But the jealousy and vindictiveness of Ribera were not confined to artists of rival schools. He also persecuted with the utmost bitterness Massimo Stanzione, one of the greatest ornaments of Neapolitan painting, and who in some of his works, such as the pictures in the Chapel of St. Bruno, in the Carthusian Convent of San Martino, manifests an elevated beauty and repose, a noble simplicity and clearness of line, and an excellence of colour, not often found united in the productions of his school. On one occasion in particular, Ribera allowed his jealousy of this artist to drive him to commit an act of singular meanness. Stanzione had painted over the principal entrance of San Martino a dead Christ between the Marys, which had become somewhat obscured ; and Ribera, having persuaded the monks to allow him to wash it in order to restore its brilliancy, applied a corrosive liquid which almost entirely ruined it, in consequence of which Stanzione, on being asked to repaint it, positively refused, saying that such a scandalous piece of treachery deserved to be perpetuated to the lasting disgrace of its perpetrator.

Historians are at variance with regard to the later years and death of Ribera. Dominici gives one account of the termination of his eventful career, whilst Palomino, and his Spanish biographer, Cean Bermudez, furnish us with another entirely different. The following is the Neapolitan version of his story. When Don John of Austria came to Naples, in 1648, to quell the rebellion of Masaniello, all pushed forward to pay their court to him, among others Ribera, who invited him to a magnificent musical party, at which the young prince beheld and fell in love with Ribera's beautiful daughter, Maria Rosa. He even found means to make an avowal of his feelings, overwhelmed her with protestations and presents, and at length succeeded in inducing her to become his mistress. Afterwards he removed her to his palace, then to Palermo, and finally placed her in a convent in that city. The proud spirit of Ribera fretted and chafed under this affront, which the high rank of the seducer prevented him from avenging; and his temper was further irritated by the réproaches of his wife, who upbraided him with having himself introduced the Prince to their daughter. Life became odious and insupportable to him, and at length he one day left his countryhouse, under pretence of going to Naples, and from that time disappeared without leaving any traces of his fate. This happened in 1649, when he had only attained his 56th year.

Such is the narrative of Dominici. On the other hand, Palomino states that he died at Naples in 1656, aged sixty-seven ; and Cean Bermudez asserts that his life at Naples was one of uninterrupted prosperity and success : that he was the favourite of successive Viceroys and the acknowledged sovereign of Art; that he maintained a splendid household, visited and received the best company in Naples, and that his wife rode out in her own coach with a waiting gentleman to attend upon her; and he also assigns the year 1656 as the date of his death. This, upon the whole, seems the more correct account, though there is a species of retributive justice in the other upon one whose talents were almost equalled by his crimes.

In the delineation of martyrdom, in the expression of rage and physical agony in a truthful and forcible manner, Ribera has few equals. He revelled in such painful and revolting subjects; and his “ Saint Bartholomew flayed alive," “Cato of Utica tearing out his own bowels,” “Ixion on the wheel," and many other pictures in various galleries of Europe, are equally remarkable for masterly handling and power of expression, and for the depraved taste which could select and gloat over subjects so horrible. Ribera was an admirable portrait



painter, and has left us many specimens of his excellence in this department of Art. His chalk and pen sketches are highly finished and much esteemed by collectors, as are also his etchings after his own designs, one of which is a spirited equestrian portrait of Don John of Austria

, with a view of Naples in the background. Although diminutive in stature— whence his appellation of Spagnoletto — Ribera was possessed of great personal attractions ; his complexion was dark, his features well-formed and pleasing, he wore his hair in long flowing locks, and his air and mien were dignified and imposing. He used to spend six hours of each day in the labours of the pencil, and give up the rest of his time to visiting and amusement. He had considerable social talents and conversational readiness and wit, of which the following anecdote affords a favourable example. On one occasion he was talking about the philosopher's stone with two Spanish officers, who boasted that they possessed the secret of the transmutation of metals. “I, too,” said Ribera, " have discovered that mystery; and if you will do me the honour of calling on me to-morrow, you shall see the process." The officers were punctual to their appointment, and found the painter working upon a half-length figure of John the Baptist ; upon which they inquired when he was to show them the promised secret. "Wait a moment, gentlemen,” was the reply, "and you shall be satisfied.” He then sent for his servant, gave him the picture to carry to a collector, and desired him to lose no time in coming back. On his return, he brought to Ribera ten Spanish pistoles as the price of the painting, who, placing them on a table before his visitors, thus addressed them- "Behold my secret! Thus it is that I make gold."



Bright-winged hours of young Life's gladness,

How swiftly ye did fly!
When Sorrow waved her wand of sadness,

Ye did die!
And now the moan of anguished woe

Breaks mournfully
On Mem'ry's joyous dream of long ago,

So long gone by.
Long ago! oh! how its music falls

In gently soothing tone !
Shifting the past to present, it recalls

Days long gone;
Brings back the loved of former years,

The idol'd one;
Again smiles on us through Love's sweet tears,

Nor alone!


Long ago! The wild glad dreams of youth

On our souls return !
Again the pure fires of hope and truth

Brightly burn;
Again we trust, nor suspect deceit,

Nor think, forlorn,
Roughly awakened from those dreams to meet

Cold bitter scorn.

Long ago! and its sweet voices sound,

Now softly blending
The tones that once made our spirits bound,

Glad ascending,
Up to the realms of perfect delight,

With sad airs lending
That mournful cadence that dews the sight

With tears descending.

Long ago ! shall we in heaven

Look back on long ago,
To marvel how our hearts were riven

By passing woe?
Shall we see its pure, bright dreams fulfilled,

The mystery know,
Why our hearts now joy, now agony trilled,

In time long ago?

E. Z.

« ZurückWeiter »