Art of Violence
Dulwich Picture Gallery shows the nightmare visions of Ribera
1 December, 2017
A stomach-churning exhibition of tortured human bodies will open in London next year. Described by the director of Dulwich Picture Gallery as “akin to witnessing a Quentin Tarantino film”, it will be the first major show in the UK devoted to the 17th-century Spanish artist Jusepe de Ribera.
Titled Ribera: Art of Violence, it will include a room of his nightmare visions of the martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew by being flayed alive, and end with a shift from religious art to classical mythology – inexorably the death of Marsyas, excoriated by Apollo for his presumption in challenging the god to a music competition, and losing.
Other rooms will hold Ribera’s drawings and prints, including a detailed study of a mouth screaming in pain, and a scene from the dreaded Spanish inquisition, with the chief inquisitor seated in an armchair watching the victim contorted in anguish, hung by his wrists from a gallows.
Even in his day, the artist’s obsessive concentration on close-up views of martyrdom, torture and deformity raised some eyebrows, and two centuries later the poet Byron wrote that Ribera’s brush was “tainted with all the blood of all the sainted”.
However, the Dulwich exhibition will attempt to rescue the artist’s genius from the accusation that he was just a brilliant sadist. Xavier Bray, director of the Wallace collection and guest curator, described Ribera as the rightful heir to Caravaggio. “Ribera’s hyperrealistic depictions of extreme violence will be the object of fascination as we marvel at his incredible painterly technique,” he said. His co-curator, Edward Payne, predicted that the show would provoke “a sense of surprise, shock and awe”. “Beyond merely introducing audiences to the work of this major artist, the exhibition will reveal the immediacy and complexity of Ribera’s images of violence,” he said.
Jusepe de Ribera, nicknamed lo Spagnoletto (the Little Spaniard), spent most of his working life in Italy. Loans for the exhibition, which will open in September 2018, are coming from the Prado and the Louvre, as well as museums in Spain, Italy and the US.