Salvator Rosa (1615-73) is one of the best-known Neapolitan artists of the seventeenth century celebrated for his wild landscapes. His subjects, with their dramatic lighting and elemental locations, set a precedent in the eighteenth century for the ‘sublime’ in landscape painting. This important exhibition at Compton Verney was the first show of Rosa’s work to be presented in Britain since the 1970s.
The exhibition explored the wild nature of Rosa’s landscapes through paintings, drawings and etchings. Over forty works were featured, including important paintings such as Landscape with Mercury and the Dishonest Woodman (c.1655-60); Self-Portrait (1641); Empedocles Leaping into Etna (c.1660s) and Jacob’s Dream (c.1650s).
Rosa’s early training was in Naples, and it was here that he learnt to paint directly onto the canvas, often creating oil sketches from nature, which contributed greatly to the freedom of his painting. In 1635, Rosa left Naples for Rome and in 1640 became court painter to the Medici family in Florence. However, Rosa longed for greater freedom and spent his summers in northern Tuscany where he formed his distinctive landscape style. In 1649, he broke completely with the Medici court and returned to Rome, where he lived until his death in 1673.
Amongst Italian artists Rosa was ranked with Claude Lorraine and Gaspard Dughet. He created a significant new form of landscape painting, which often formed backdrops for scenes from classical myth and contemporary folklore, where the turbulent and ferocious energy of nature is expressed with a remarkable sense of awe. Rosa’s popularity flourished during the eighteenth century as his work was brought back from Italy and featured in many of the great private collections in England.
By the early nineteenth century much of Rosa’s work was in British ownership, marking an unprecedented popularity for a foreign artist.
Another reason for Rosa’s popularity was that vivid stories about his life began to proliferate, which added an instant glamour to his reputation. Although these were largely myth, Rosa became a cult figure, often referred to in poems and treatises, and his influence on other artists at the time such as Henry Fuseli and Joseph Wright of Derby was substantial.
By focusing on this important and under-represented Neapolitan artist this exhibition complemented Compton Verney’s permanent collection of Neapolitan art. Works for this exhibition wereloaned from both public and private collections including the British Museum; National Gallery; Eastnor Castle and Chatsworth.
Displayed alongside Rosa’s work was sculpture by artists Mariele Neudecker and Tania Kovats, whose work represented their own response to the sublime power of landscape.