(Xátiva, 1591 – Naples, 1652)
“Mary Magdalene meditating in the desert”
Oil on canvas
147 x 118.1 cm
Painted circa 1640
Spinosa, N. Ribera. La Obra Completa. Madrid. 2008. Illustr. Page 217 No. A302 Page
Papi, G & Spinosa, N. “La revolución de Ribera” Ars Magazine, No. 1. December
2008. Pages 97 – 115
Spinosa, N. “Pittura del seicento a Napoli. Da Caravaggio a Massimo Stanzione”
2010. Nº 372 pages. 374- 375
Naples, Museo di Capodimonte “Ritorno al Barroco. Da Caravaggio a Luigi
Vanvitelli”. 12 December 2009 – 11 April, 2010. Nº 1.25 (Page 94 in the catalogue).
Gandía, “San Francisco de Borja: Grande de España. Arte y espiritualidad en la
cultura hispana de los siglos XVI y XVII” Casa de cultura Marques de Quiros. 4
november 2010- 9 January 2011. Nº 22. Pages. 244-245
José de Ribera y Cucó was born in Játiva in 1591, the son of Simón de Ribera, a
shoemaker by trade, and Margarita Cucó. He had a brother called Juan, who also
devoted himself to painting, and they are known to have shared a house on the Via
Margutta in Rome.
His initial artistic instruction was probably in Valencia, at Francisco Ribalta’s studio.
He pursued his entire career in Italy, mainly in Naples. He was also known by his
Italianised name, Jusepe de Ribera, and by the moniker Lo Spagnoletto (The Little
He cultivated a naturalist style that developed from Caravaggio’s tenebrism to a more
colourful and brighter aesthetics, influenced by Van Dyck and the Venetian masters. He
helped to create the great Neapolitan school, who acknowledged him as their
unquestioned master; and his paintings, sent to Spain from early on in his career, had an
influence on Spanish painters in terms of both technique and iconographic models.
Recent findings have helped to reconstruct his early output in Italy, during his time in
This painting is a fine example of the consummate skill displayed by Ribera in the latter
stages of his life, and in particular around 1640, expressed by a stunning play of lighting
and a chromatic approach using warm, vibrant colours, but also by a more restrained
and humanistic depiction of the expression of emotions and moods.
1640 is the possible date for this Magdalena meditando (Magdalene meditating). The
figure is presented with its gorgeous locks of golden reflections falling down over the
back, kneeling against the background of a rocky landscape, praying and in anguished
meditation before the skull resting on a rock beside a rope for self-flagellation (another
significant component of the “still life” included here is a composition with a sacred
theme, but frequently used in paintings with a profane subject matter, testifying to the
painter’s extraordinary gift also as a “genre painter”, as revealed throughout his
protracted career). This dating is based not only on the obvious stylistic similarities with
other paintings from the same time but also on the presence of the same model of
copper-coloured hair as in the Magdalena penitente (Penitent Magdalene) in the Prado
Museum (Fig. 1) and the Santa Inés in the Gemälde Gallery in Dresden (fig.2)