Jusepe de Ribera - inv. 332

Jusepe de Ribera (1591-1652)

Portrait of a Jesuit Missionary
195,6 x 111,5 cm
signature and date
1881 acquisition 
Inv. 332

Trivulzio Room
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This painting had belonged to the famous Milanese collector Carlo Castelbarco.
Jusepe de Ribera was a Spanish painter who came to Italy as a very young man to pursue his career.
After having lived in Rome for a year, in 1616 he moved to Naples, where he worked both for the Spanish nobility then ruling the city, and for churches and convents.
This painting was depicted while the painter was decorating the Certosa of San Martino, and is considered as a masterpiece of Seventeenth century portraiture.
Although the precise identity of the Jesuit is unknown, the presence of a lion on which the man rests his hand suggests that he might have been a missionary. However, the lion is also part of Christ's iconography, and the animal could therefore be interpreted as a symbolic reference to the subject's membership in the Jesuit order.
The lion's muzzle, mane, paws and tail are outlined by quick brushwork; in contrast to the face and the hands of the man which are instead carefully defined and enhanced by the abrupt contrast with the dark background and the man's black dress.
Thanks to the expert balance of light and shadows used to characterise the face, the portrait is extraordinarily vivid and expressive.