St Lawrence

1640s

Accession year 2009

Oil on canvas, 76 x 63.5 cm

Collection Fondazione Francesco Federico Cerruti per l’Arte

Long-term loan Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Rivoli-Turin

Inv. no. CC.17.P.RIB.1640.A49

Provenance: Xavier de la Perraudière, Saumur, 28 March 2009 (lot 24).

Exhibitions: Naples 2009-10 (N. Spinosa, vol. I, cat. 1.22, p. 91); C. Christov-Bakargiev, with F. Cafagna, M. Vecellio (curators), Espressioni: La Proposizione, exhibition without catalogue (Rivoli, Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, 4 February – 14 July 2021).

Bibliography: The Cerruti Collection 2019, p. 52, ill.

Discovered by Nicola Spinosa in 2008 on the French antiquarian market, this St Lawrence (identified by the deacon’s garment and the gridiron symbolic of his martyrdom) is highly representative of the mature work of the Spanish artist Jusepe de Ribera, a leading figure in Neapolitan art in the first half of the 17th century. The attribution to Ribera is based in part on the signature, reported in literature but now illegible, but more importantly on the inimitable quality of the piece.

Indeed, the distinctive characteristics of Ribera’s language – virtuosic use of paint (in this case showcased in the variations of the cream colour of the dalmatic), realism and depth of expression in the eyes and gestures – are found in their most complete and recognisable form in half-length figures like this one: old saints, ascetics and philosophers, formulated following typologies first developed by the painter during his early period in Rome and then successfully codified over subsequent decades. However, although this work fits within this truly vast category, distinguished by the use of serial production mechanisms by necessity, it – and here lies Ribera’s greatness – escapes the routine of the genre thanks to the artist’s capacity for bestowing the subject with inherent, concrete individuality.

While the attribution of the painting is therefore immediately clear, Spinosa’s dating of the work to the early 1630s is more problematic, as is his suggestion that there are links between it and the St Stephen by Ribera in the Galerie Knoell, Basel.1 Judging from the photograph, the latter work is definitely earlier than this one and was probably conceived as a pendant for the St Lawrence sold in London by Sotheby’s on 5 December 2018 (lot 20), now in a private collection. If anything, this Sotheby’s St Lawrence – and not the one at hand, as argued by Spinosa – would have been the one that served as a model for the well-known St Lawrence by Bernardo Cavallino in the Museo Lázaro Galdiano, Madrid (inv. no. 8460).2

For the dating, which is in any case difficult to pinpoint with precision without external references, it is instead necessary to consider that the same physiognomic type seems to be found – with more adolescent features – in the Young Man with a Vase of Flowers (essentially an allegory of smell) in the Nasjonalmuseet in Oslo (inv. no. NG.M.01345), a masterpiece by the Spaniard painted in about 1637 and recently inexplicably demoted to a work by his Neapolitan followers.3 It should also be borne in mind that the composition, with the figure’s right hand holding the iconographic attribute and the bust rotated to the left, is similar to that of a few figures of saints painted between 1632 and 1634, as noted by Spinosa, but is also found in later works that are wholly comparable to the Cerruti painting, such as the St John the Baptist in the Wellington Collection, Apsley House, London (inv. no. WM.1627-1948),4 dated 1650.

[Giuseppe Porzio]

1 Spinosa 2008, p. 385, no. A147.

2 Id. 2013, p. 366, no. 101.

3 See H. Damm, in Wiesbaden 2016-17, pp. 360-361, no. 95.

4 Spinosa 2008, p. 444, no. A287.