Known as ‘savage Rosa’, he was a precursor of Romanticism and a painter of wild landscapes, where bandits and hermits lurk among shattered trees and rocks. He also painted dramatic self-portraits, bizarre scenes of witchcraft, philosophers and lyrical female allegories.
Rosa was born near Naples where he embarked upon a career as a painter under the tutelage of the Riberesque artist Francesco Francanzano (1612–56). He then worked with Aniello Falcone (1600–65), a specialist in battle-scenes, a genre in which Rosa would also excel. His biographer records that Rosa would go out into the country with Falcone and sketch scenes from nature in oils on paper, making him one of the earliest exponents of the plein-air sketch.
In the 1630s, Rosa spent time in Rome, where he established a name for himself, however in 1640 he accepted the invitation of Giovanni Carlo de’ Medici to move to Florence. It was probably while in Florence that Rosa painted an extraordinary series of paintings devoted to witchcraft and Satanism. Here he remained for the next decade before returning to Rome, where he remained for the rest of his life. His works from the 1650s were initially landscapes in the heroic vein of Domenichino and Poussin but became increasingly wild and preoccupied with the “horrid beauty” of nature. In Rome, Rosa quarreled with the establishment and in particular the sculptor Bernini (1598–1680). An etcher, poet and playwright as well as a painter Salvator Rosa cultivated the image of an intemperate, difficult artist. He had no followers, though his works were replicated and such was his success that he had, by his death, amassed a considerable fortune.
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Books on Salvator Rosa
Caterina Volpi, Salvator Rosa (1615-1673) ‘Pittore Famoso’, Rome, 2014.
Helen Langdon, Xavier F. Salomon and Caterina Volpi, Salvator Rosa (1615–1673): Bandits, Wilderness and Magic, exh. cat. London, 2010.
Jonathan Scott, Salvator Rosa, His Life and Times, New Haven, 1995.
Filippo Baldinucci, Notizie de’ professori del disegno da Cimabue in qua, per le quali si dimostra come, e per chi le bell’ arti di pittura, scultura, e architettura, lasciata la rozzezza delle maniere greca e gottica, si siano in questi secoli ridotte all’antica loro perfezione, 1681, reprint Milan, 1808-12.