The Raising of Lazarus
(Salvator Rosa)


Salvator Rosa’s reputation as a ‘Gothick’ and picturesque painter of brigands and landscapes dates mainly from the eighteenth century and was encapsulated in Lady Morgan’s two volume Life and times of Salvator Rosa, published in 1824.

Recent research and reappraisal has revealed his as a many-faceted talent, drawing not only on the resources of the visual arts, but also on literature and music. Although Neapolitan by birth, Rosa absorbed many unexpected features from his two principal alternative adopted cities – Rome and Florence. It was perhaps mainly to the latter’s ambiguous mixture of tortured religiosity, repressed sexuality, countless bizarre sub-cultures, and irrepressible sense of ironic humour that Rosa was most attracted.

A welcome eclecticism characterises his artistic sources, since having studied with Falcone he also found sympathetic elements in painters as diverse as Poussin, Ribera, Castiglione, and, in Florence, Cecco Bravo. His main output was of landscapes, tending always towards the ‘Sublime’ in their preference for precipices, jagged trees, and dramatic, theatrical distances, often recalling the coastal scenery of Naples. Through his brother-in-law, Francesco Fracanzano, Rosa no doubt personally knew Ribera, but Rosa’s early Neapolitan pictures are of small Bambocciate, which became more ambitious after he moved to Rome. From 1640-49 he was in Florence and created many of the celebrated Seaports arid Battles and, under the influence of local painter-poets such as Lorenzo Lippi (who also dabbled in amateur philosophy), Rosa created not only deeply introspective images imbued with philosophical intent, such as his memorable Self Portrait (London, National Gallery), but also black magic scenes and inexplicably disturbing religious pictures. Themes such as Humana Fragilita (Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum) provide the clue to Rosa’s role as the link between seicento moralising and obsession with time and Romanticism’s need for emotive visual effects.

The etchings which Rosa began to produce after 1660 spread his love of the ‘Picturesque’ which above all attracted the British to his work. His strongly independent nature and obsession with the artist as individual contributes to his image as an isolated genius struggling to realise his unique vision in a variety of ways.

Rosa painted the theme of The Resurrection of Lazarus more than once. Another related painting of this subject is in the Conde Museum in Chantilly. This latter painting was engraved by Pierre Bombelli in 1771. In 1717, a Resurrection of Lazarus was recorded as being in the Falconieri Palace. This may possibly be the same painting that Waagen cites as being in the collection of Mr. Smith Barry, Marbury Hall.

The iconography of our painting is extremely interesting. It has clear northern influences which can be traced directly to Rembrandt and his circle. In fact, the basis for the composition derives from a painting by Jan Lievens, now in the Brighton City Art Gallery (see Fig. 1). It is certain that the Brighton picture could never have been seen directly by Rosa, as it was first in Rembrandt’s collection and is mentioned under no. 38 in his 1656 inventory, and subsequently throughout the rest of the seventeenth century in a variety of Amsterdam private collections. Rosa must have had access to the engraving (see Fig. 2) of Lievens’s composition made by E. van de Wynegarde (Sheepshanks 29) which together with Rembrandt’s own engravings (see Fig. 3A & B) must have circulated in Italy.

Rosa heightens the drama of Lievens’s composition by showing the Lazarus figure emerging from his tomb wrapped in a winding sheet. The group to the right follows Lievens to some degree, but with the addition of further figures, including two very Stanzionesque Neapolitan women. Several of the figure types in the right foreground are based on figures from other compositions. The kneeling figure is a reinterpretation of a seated figure in a print from Rosa’s Figurine series. Only the bearded figure in a red cap looking directly out of the composition is alien to Rosa, a jarringly Northern type reinterpreted from the Lievens and Rembrandt compositions. The sense of exaggerated drama is comparable to other Rosa works, such as Pythagorus emerging from the Underworld of c. 1662 (Fort Worth, Kimbell Art Museum) or the group to the left of The Martyrdom of Attilius Regulus, c. 1655-60 (Richmond, Virginia Museum of Fine Art). The figure of Christ is elongated, placed slightly further to the left and rotated, with his arm raised, following the example of the Rembrandt print of the same subject.

This eclectic and dramatic composition, providing a rare insight into the influence of Northern painting on the Italian Baroque, shows the artist handling paint in a characteristically Neapolitan vein; the cascade of branches is pure Rosa, and, although the chiaroscuro effects are Rembrandtian, many of the colours, such as the violet and mauve dresses, are Neapolitan. Rosa’s unique handling of the white winding sheet is strongly reminiscent of his handling of drapery in such pictures as his Death of Socrates, c. 1650 (formerly with Wildenstein; then Christie’s 5th July 1991, Lot 26).

49 x 38 ¼ ins. (124.7 x 97.2 cm.)
Oil on canvas

Private Collection, Linz.
Matthiesen Gallery, London.


L. Salerno, ‘Due Momenti singolari di Salvator Rosa’, Artibus et Historiae, No. 23, 1991, pp. 121-128, pl. 6.

Historical Period
Baroque - 1600-1720
Historical events
Italian - Neapolitan
1993-Fifty Paintings 1535 - 1825.
To celebrate Ten Years of Collaboration between The Matthiesen Gallery, London, and Stair Sainty Matthiesen, New York. 216 pages, 50 colour plates, numerous black and white text illustrations £20 or $32 inc. p.& p.

(Click on image above)
Price band
$350,000 - $500,000