José de Ribera (January 12, 1591 – September 2, 1652) was a Spanish Tenebrist painter and printmaker, better known as Jusepe de Ribera or Giuseppe Ribera. He also was called Lo Spagnoletto ("the Little Spaniard") by his contemporaries and early writers. Ribera was a leading painter of the Spanish school, although his mature work was all done in Italy.
Ribera was born near Valencia, Spain at Xàtiva. He was baptized on February 17, 1591. His father was a shoemaker, perhaps on a large scale. His parents intended him for a literary or learned career, but he neglected these studies and is said to have apprenticed with the Spanish painter Francisco Ribalta in Valencia, although no proof of this connection exists. Longing to study art in Italy, he made his way to Rome via Parma, where he is recorded in 1611. According to one source, a cardinal noticed him drawing from the frescoes on a Roman palace facade, and housed him. Roman artists gave him the nickname "Lo Spagnoletto".
The Kingdom of Naples was then part of the Spanish Empire, and ruled by a succession of Spanish Viceroys. Ribera moved to Naples permanently in the middle of 1616. His Spanish nationality aligned him with the small Spanish governing class in the city, and also with the Flemish merchant community, from another Spanish territory, who included important collectors of and dealers in art. Ribera began to sign his work as "Jusepe de Ribera, Español" or "Jusepe de Ribera, Spaniard". He was able to quickly attract the attention of the Viceroy, Pedro Téllez-Girón, 3rd Duke of Osuna, also recently arrived, who gave him a number of major commissions, which showed the influence of Guido Reni.
About 1644, his daughter married a Spanish nobleman in the administration, who died soon after. From 1644, Ribera seems to have suffered serious ill-health, which greatly reduced his ability to work, although his workshop continued to produce works under his direction. In 1647–1648, during the Masaniello rising against Spanish rule, he felt forced for some months to take his family with him into refuge in the palace of the Viceroy. In 1651 he sold the large house he had owned for many years, and when he died on September 2, 1652 he was in serious financial difficulties.
In his earlier style, founded sometimes on Caravaggio and sometimes on the wholly diverse method of Correggio, the study of Spanish and Venetian masters may be traced. Along with his massive and predominating shadows, he retained from first to last a great strength in local coloring. His forms, although ordinary and sometimes coarse, are correct; the impression of his works gloomy and startling. He delighted in subjects of horror. In the early 1630s his style changed away from strong contrasts of dark and light to a more diffused and golden lighting, as may be seen in The Clubfoot of 1642.
Among Ribera's principal works could be named Saint Januarius Emerging from the Furnace in the cathedral of Naples; the Descent from the Cross in the Certosa, Naples; the Adoration of the Shepherds (a late work; 1650) in the Louvre; the Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew in the Prado; and the Pieta in the sacristy of San Martino, Naples. His mythologic subjects are often as violent as his martyrdoms: for example, Apollo and Marsyas, with versions in Brussels and Naples, or the Tityos in the Prado. The Prado and Louvre contain numbers of his paintings; the National Gallery, London, three. He executed several fine male portraits and a self-portrait. Saint Jerome Writing in the Prado now has been credited to him by Gianni Papi, a Caravaggio expert. He was an important etcher, the most significant Spanish printmaker before Goya, producing about forty prints, nearly all in the 1620s.
Ribera's work sank into obscurity after his death because of his reputation for cruelty. He painted the horrors and reality of human cruelty and showed he valued truth over idealism. The rehabilitation of his reputation began with exhibits in London at the Royal Academy in 1982 and in New York at the Metropolitan in 1992. Since then his oeuvre has gained more attention from critics and scholars. Unfortunately, due to the ebb of interest in his work for so long, a complete catalog of his work is still lacking. Many works attributed to him have been altered, discarded, damaged, and neglected during his period of obscurity.