Portrait of Salvator Rosa (?)
(Luca Giordano)


This recently rediscovered portrait is notable for the melancholic intensity of the sitter’s gaze, which cannot fail to engage the attention of the viewer. The sitter is deliberately not flattered, his slightly hollowed cheeks and the prominent bridge of his nose are rendered with startling, almost Riberesque realism that recalls Giordano’s early Philosophers. The eyes engage the viewer with a cold, uncompromising stare accentuated by the slightly pursed lips. Only the hand, resting gently on the sitter’s breast, modifies the imperious, hawk-like impression. Giordano has paid particular attention to the rendering of the drapery, which is strictly monochromatic in its use of black and white. It is in the white collar and cuffs that Giordano reveals his greatest bravura contrasting the stiff, starched collar with the flowing, frilly linen of the shirtsleeve. This latter is rendered with loving intensity, the folds and shadows accented with a trick – instead of using blacks or greys to denote the shadowed recesses Giordano uses ice-blue tints to such startling effect that the linen almost glows with the tonality of mother-of-pearl.

The sombre tones of the doublet and smock are sharply contrasted with the ‘spotlight’ effect of the lighting on the face, hand and sleeve, which thus leap into prominence. The architectural features of the sitter’s physiognomy, his prominent nose in particular, are consequently accentuated. The lighting is quite Caravaggesque and the source emanates frontally from upper left casting a halo effect behind the sitter on the tenebrous background.

The sitter is clearly a painter as is indicated by his artist’s cap as well as the other garments. The pose resembles Giordano’s own Self-Portrait (Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi – see fig. 1) where the hand is placed in an almost identical self-indicating position. The sitter has long hair which is worn in the somewhat artistic abandon of Giordano’s own self-portraits. But this is probably not a self-portrait since Giordano’s features are more rounded, his cheeks less hollow, his nose no bridge, and his hair is curlier. Nevertheless, there is a certain resemblance to his Self-Portrait in the Guise of a Philosopher (Macclesfield, Capesthorne Hall) or the similar Self-Portrait (Milan, Pinacoteca di Brera). The stylistic handling, however, suggests a later dating than the self-portraits and Spinosa has suggested a date shortly after 1660 around the time of Saint Sebastian Tended by Saint Irene (Philadelphia Museum of Art) or Portia (London, Trafalgar Galleries). This is precisely the moment when Giordano began to attenuate his Riberesque realism and moderate it with the softening forms of a neo-Venetian style. This dating lends credence to the proposal, first put forward by Patrick Matthiesen and subsequently accepted by Spinosa, that this portrait of a painter might depict Salvator Rosa, the celebrated Neapolitan artist, whom Giordano would probably have had occasion to meet in Rome or Florence in the early 1660s. The hawkish expression is quite like that in Rosa’s known self-portraits as is the hair. The mouth, eyebrows and small beard below the lower lip all also bear a resemblance to Rosa’s known features. Even the ‘halo’ effect behind the sitter recalls Rosa’s style. If Rosa’s own self-portraits do not show quite such a prominent nose bridge, one might explain this as the artistic licence of Rosa to make an infelicitous feature less prominent – a temptation which Giordano, still painting in a Riberesque realist style, would not have fallen prey to. Rosa in the early 1660s was in his forties and it was only after 1664 that his health rapidly declined compelling him to wear glasses.

Spinosa remarks that this Portrait of Salvator Rosa (?) is the finest example of Giordano’s portraiture and an outstanding example of seventeenth-century Italian ‘dal vero’ characterisation.

31 ½ x 27 3/8 in. (80 x 69.5 cm.)
Oil on canvas

Private collection, Hamburg.


N. Spinosa, Luca Giordano 1634-1705 (Guida alla Mostra), 2001, p. 31, colour plate.


Luca Giordano, Naples & Vienna, 2001

Where is It?
Private Collection Acquired through The Matthiesen Gallery
Historical Period
Baroque - 1600-1720
Italian - Neapolitan
2001-2001: An Art Odyssey (1500-1720)
Hardbound millennium catalogue with special binding with 58 colour plates and 184 black and white illustrations, 360 pages. £35 or $50 plus p.& p.

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