Salvator Rosa

Italian painter, poet, actor and musician

His Life || His Work || Influences and Impacts || In reference to Arcadia by Tom Stoppard || References

His Life

     Salvator Rosa was born in Arenella, Italy, near Naples on June 20, 1615. As a young man, he traveled to Rome, the current center of the Italian arts. This early work of Rosa's shows the influence of low-life genre painting.

     In the 1630's and 1640's, Rosa traveled to Florence to work for the Medici. Here he flourished painting a wide range of themes for an appreciative public. It was here in Florence that Rosa met and befriended the notable poet, Giovanni Batista Riccardi. Perhaps as a result of this friendship, Rosa decided to try his hand at writing. He founded the Accademia dei Percossi, a group of intellectuals who met regularly for dinners, entertainment, and intellectual discussion.

      Rosa is remembered as an abrasive cynic and pagan who rejected society to keep his personal independence. He rejected social morals, virtues, and all ideas of the Church. His 1659 pictorial satire Allegory of Fortune, that depicted Pope Alexander VII as enlightened, almost caused his excommunication. Alexander's brother intervened and set a precedent of artistic license. Artists were then not expected to conform to social standards. In this way, Rosa was instrumental in developing the artistic temperament.

His Work

      Salvator Rosa created a new type of landscape that was boldly depicted, darkly evocative, and wildly romantic. His scenes were filled of jagged rocks, bushy broken trees, and picturesque figures. His dramatic figure paintings were of obscure subjects from ancient myth, history and the Bible. His works were most avidly collected in 18th and 19th century England. He was praised and honored as the antithesis of Claude Lorrain and idealistic art.

      Rosa's ambition, however, ran along different lines. He wished to be a painter of religious, mythological, and historical subjects. These themes were considered by him to be respectable. Rosa believed it was his duty as a gifted artist to attain the most respectable form of painting, the portrayal of historical themes. It is ironic that the rugged landscapes for which he was known were regarded by their inventor to be unworthy of his talent.

      Salvator Rosa was reported to have humorous wit and be a talented musician, an etcher, a notable comic actor and a prolific and successful satirist and poet. Recent historians agree that most of Rosa's musical talent is a myth. It is true that he had extensive knowledge of literature and history which added to his appeal as a notorious character in society. He was also the author of seven prose satires. These works commented on the state of the arts of music, poetry, and painting and the general corruption of society as a whole.

      In the1650's and 60's, Rosa focused his energy primarily on his major historical works. However, he continued his landscapes due to popular demand. Suddenly, he adopted an increasingly expressive style. The economic crunch of the time hit Rosa hard. He was reduced to living from sale to sale and ends were met by selling his etchings.

Jason and the Dragon


The Sacrifice of Isaac


The Fireplace


Salvator Rosa Sketching the Banditti

Influences and Impacts

      Salvator Rosa was influenced by many painters and he, in turn, influenced many artists to come. He created an aura, a myth, a tradition, from both landscapes and complex allegories, which would later become known as the "Original Characteristic Style." Though he sought fame and fortune, Rosa wanted to be respected and revered; he yearned for public acknowledgment.

    As a painter and poet, Rosa was a widely-sought teacher due to his distinctive imagery and style. The Salvator methodology directly affected many 18th and 19th century artists. His well-meaning pupils ranged from Giulio Avellino, Scipione Compagno, Evangelista Martinotti, and Bartolommeo Torregiani. As are all innovative artists, Salvator Rosa was somewhat of an unwilling mentor; he was imitated and glorified by men such as Johann Bach, Christian Dietrich, and Giovanni Pannini. He was chagrined that the overwhelming reason for his popularity as a tutor was his new conception of landscape.

    Salvator Rosa was heavily influenced by history and the philosophy of ages gone by. He regarded himself as an educated man, a philosopher-painter. His philosophic attitude expresses the ideals and values of the ancient Stoics. In accordance with Stoicism, Rosa strove to lead the life he viewed as virtuous in accordance with nature. He had a lasting impact on art and literature of later centuries through his attributions, his artistic temperament, and his strong beliefs in regards to the independence of the artist.

In reference to Arcadia by Tom Stoppard

      Salvator Rosa plays an odd role in Arcadia. Though not physically present in the play, Rosa helps tie the two time periods of the play together. (See Plot) The famed painter is brought into the play in the 19th century by Richard Noakes , the landskip gardener. He wishes to change the present landscape Capability Brown style of the manor lands to the more wild and romantic style of Salvator Rosa. Rosa is tied into the 20th century through Hannah Jarvis , the avid researcher who is studying the hermit of Sidley Park. The hermit was the result of the hermitage, which was the Rosa corollary of Capability Brown's gazebo.

    Salvator Rosa acts as the link between the past and the present by linking the garden and the hermit of the 19th century to the modern day garden at Sidley Park. He links Hannah to Noakes, provides for the identity of the hermit, and is the reason for the agricultural investigations at Sidley Park that result in bitter news for the precocious Bernard Nightingale .

    Rosa is, as Noakes so aptly remarks in Scene One, "the very exemplar of the picturesque style." Hannah further comments on the esteemed artist in Scene Two by referring to Noakes renovations of the garden as "...untamed nature in the style of Salvator Rosa. It's the Gothic novel expressed in landscape."

Page by Erin Wilson and Zeenath Querishi


    Other interesting sites to visit are:

Art cyclopedias's entry on Salvator Rosa

The Necessity For Ruins

    Topics to Reference:

Un'avventura di Salvator Rosa (Il Formica) - naz.:   Italia - regía: Alessandro Blasetti - v.c. n. 30897 del 27.01.40 - m. 2618 - ppp: 16/12/39 - c. pr.: Stella Film  En France: Une aventure de Salvator Rosa (1942)   In USA: An Adventure of Salvator Rosa (1940 - 97')

Romantic Landscape Design

Satiric Poetry of the 17th century

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Picture of the gardens at Stour
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