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The macabre nightmare world of Ribera heads to Dulwich

a dark painting of people tending a prone, semi naked figure

Jusepe de Ribera, Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew, 1644, Oil on canvas, 202 x 153 cm, Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Barcelona. Photo: Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Barcelona / Mnac, Calveras/Mérida/Sagristà. ©Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Barcelona.

The disturbing art of the Spanish master of the macabre, Jusepe de Ribera, is to be the focus of a major exhibition in autumn 2018 at Dulwich Picture Gallery

Being flayed alive, the torture chambers of the Spanish Inquisition and the various manifestations of saintly suffering and violence will be dominating the walls of Dulwich Picture Gallery in Autumn 2018.

Ribera: Art of Violence will be the first UK show dedicated to the Spanish Baroque painter, draughtsman and printmaker Jusepe de Ribera (1591–1652), whose studies of violent scenes were rendered in a series of shockingly realistic canvasses.

Bringing together the most sensational and shocking of these works, the show will reveal how the artist also known as Spagnoletto (the Little Spaniard), captured the violence and religious zeal of the Counter Reformation as it progressed through the first half of the seventeenth century.

These were violent times, when doctrinal differences and the desire to defend the Catholic faith in the face of the Protestant Reformation led to a series of Papal doctrinal edicts – then torture, trial, burning at the stake and the Thirty Years War.

a seried of drawings of open mouths and flared nostrils

Jusepe de Ribera, Studies of the Nose and Mouth, c.1622, Etching, 14 x 21.6 cm, British Museum. Photo: British Museum. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

a painting of a prone, naked figure tended by women

Jusepe de Ribera, St Sebastian Tended by the Holy Women, c.1621, Oil on canvas, 180.3 x 231.6cm, The Bilbao Fine Arts Museum. Photo: The Bilbao Fine Arts Museum. ©Bilboko Arte Ederren Museoa-Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao.

A selection of eight monumental canvases from this pious yet pitiless era will be displayed alongside exceptional drawings and prints exploring the powerful themes in Ribera’s art.

Ribera’s favourite subjects will emerge from a series of themed displays investigating his depictions of saintly martyrdom and mythological violence, skin and the five senses, crime and punishment, and the bound male figure.

With his dramatic use of light and shadow and his practice of painting directly from the live model, Ribera is often regarded as the heir to Caravaggio – but some visitors witnessing his shocking and grotesque realism may think he surpassed the Italian master.

Yet the exhibition will seek to demonstrate how Ribera’s images of bodies in pain are neither the product of his supposed sadism nor the expression of a purely aesthetic interest, but rather part of a complex artistic, religious and cultural engagement in the depiction of bodily suffering.

a sketch of a figure hoisted on a gallows by his arms

Jusepe de Ribera, Inquisition Scene, mid to late 1630s, Pen and ink and brown wash, 20.8 x 16.5 cm, Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design. Photo: Erik Gould, courtesy of the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence.

a sketch of a bat and two ears

Jusepe de Ribera, Study of a Bat and Two Ears, c.1620-25, Brush and red wash and red chalk, 16 x 27.8 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1972. Photo: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Ribera was, after all, a product of his era and religious violence, especially the depiction of the martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew who was supposedly flayed alive for his Christian faith, was one of his favoured subjects.

Saint Bartholomew was a common figure in southern European Baroque art, which aimed to reach out to the spectator and inspire devotion in post-Reformation Italy and Spain. Three of Ribera’s versions of the saint’s suffering will be displayed, each of them revealing the evolution of the artist’s style and his hyper-realistic treatment of a shocking theme.

“Visitors will be active participants in the theatre of Ribera’s scenes of human suffering”

A selection of prints and drawings will illuminate Ribera’s mastery of composition, gesture and expression, with works ranging from anatomical figure studies, inquisition scenes of the strappado (punishment by hanging from the wrists) and studies of eyes, ears, noses and mouths displayed alongside the images of Bartholomew flayed alive.

Dr Edward Payne, one of the guest co-curators, promises an exhibition that will “provoke a sense of surprise, shock and awe”.

“The exhibition will reveal the immediacy and complexity of Ribera’s images of violence,” he adds. “The show will call upon visitors to play a central role – not as passive onlookers but as active participants – in the theatre of Ribera’s scenes of human suffering.”

a sketch of a pained figure hoisted by his arms

Jusepe de Ribera, Study for St Sebastian, c.1620, Pen and ink, 24.9 x 15 cm, Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford. Photo: Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford. © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

And with Dulwich Director, Jennifer Scott, promising a “dramatic and exciting” presentation, and “a visitor experience akin to witnessing a Quentin Tarantino film”, this should be an art exhibition that delivers a highly stylised, visual tour de force punctuated by extreme violence – without the need for a rock n roll soundtrack.

Ribera: The Art of Violence is at Dulwich Picture Gallery from September 26 2018 – January 28 2019


Dulwich Picture Gallery

London, Greater London

Dulwich Picture Gallery, founded in 1811, was England's very first public gallery. The stunning collection houses masterpieces by Rembrandt, Rubens, Watteau, Gainsborough and Van Dyck amongst many others. The gallery also runs a world class exhibition programme. The entire collection of this gallery is a Designated Collection of national importance.

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