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Salvatore Rosa

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(Also spelled SALVATOR; otherwise known as RENNELLA, or ARENELLA, from the place of his birth).

Neapolitan artist, born at Renella, a little village near Naples, 1615; died at Rome 15 March, 1673. He was the son of poor parents ; his father, Vita Antonio, was trained as an architect; his mother, Giulia Greca Rosa, belonged to one of the Greek families of Sicily. The boy was intended first of all for the Church, and by the assistance of a relative of his mother's was sent to a college in Naples to be trained, but his excitable and impulsive nature started all kinds of difficulties, and he had to leave before his education was completed. His mother had come of a family of painters, and a Sicilian uncle had early in his life given him some lessons in drawing, while his sister's husband was an artist who had been trained by Spagnoletto, therefore there were divers reasons why the young lad should take up painting. He threw his whole heart into his work, but succeeded so poorly that presently he left home, joined a band of robbers who infested the southern part of Italy, and wandered about with them, meanwhile making all kinds of sketches, which were eventually very useful in his larger pictures. His father died when Salvatore was seventeen; the income for the family ceased, and young Rosa as its head, was regarded as its sole support. He again took to painting and worked exceedingly hard, exposing his pictures for sale in the street, and in that way by a fortunate accident, came under the attention of Lanfranco, and through him got to know Falcone. Both of these artists were of the greatest possible assistance to him. His progress, however, was exceedingly slow, and the members of his family took almost everything that he earned for their own support; meantime he was laid up almost periodically with a malignant fever, the seeds of which had been sown in his journeys with the robbers.

In 1634, he came to Rome, but fell very ill, and had to return again to Naples more dead than alive. After a little while, however, he went back to Rome, and there gained a loan in Cardinal Brancaccio, who gave him various commissions both in the Eternal City and in Viterbo. In some of these works he was assisted by a fellow pupil named Mercuri. From this point he began to make progress, but presently discovered that he had a genius for composing witty poems, sparkling and epigrammatic, having gained for him a sudden reputation in Rome ; this he turned to good account; then suddenly dropping his poetic work as quickly as he had taken it up, turned again to his favourite profession of painting. He worked very hard, and was a painter of considerable power, and of marked personality. His pictures as a rule are distinguished by gloom and mystery, rich colouring, magnificent shadows, and broad, free, easy work, nervous and emotional. There is a general air of melancholy over almost all his works, and they appear to have been turned out at top speed, but there is an impressiveness about his pictures which can never be mistaken. For a while they were regarded far too highly at a time when the Academic School was the only one in repute; they then passed under a cloud when the Primitives came into their own, but now their genius is again asserting itself, and the landscapes of Rosa with their marvellous draughtsmanship and extraordinary, melancholy magnificence are being appreciated by persons able to understand the merits of a poetic interpretation. The last few years of the artist's life were passed between Naples and Rome, with one temporary visit to Florence, where he remained three or four years. It was in Rome that he died; but the best part of his life was passed in his native town, where he was held in high repute, and regarded as one of its glories. His works are to be found in almost all the galleries of Europe, notably in the Pitti, the National Gallery of London, the Hermitage, the galleries of Dulwich and Edinburgh, and in almost every important palace in Rome. He was a skilful etcher, leaving behind him some thirty-five or forty well-etched plates, and was a very powerful draughtsman in black and sanguine. Many of his pictures are signed by his conjoined initials arranged in at least a dozen different ways, and always skilfully combined.

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