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Record Image
Rosa, Salvator (Italian, b.1615, d.1673)
Rocky Landscape with Figures.
oil on canvas
715 x 1325 mm sight size; 988 x 1600 mm frame size
8-1974
Collection of the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. Purchased 1974 with funds from the Dunedin Public Art Gallery Society.
Salvator Rosa’s 1640 Self Portrait in London’s National Gallery is a striking work. Dark and brooding, the handsome artist scrutinises the viewer. Bought at auction from Sotheby’s in 1974, Rocky Landscape with Figures is characteristic of this artist’s landscape painting from the 1650s and early 1660s. During this period Rosa painted up a storm of dramatic landscapes in keeping with his declared interest in the ‘terrific beauty’ and ‘savage wilderness’ of nature. Tempestuous beauty organised into structured but dramatic compositions, with moody skies, extravagant rock formations, terrorised and shredded trees – these appealed more to Rosa than Classical calm. Figures, delighting in the nooks and crannies of the nature playground created for them by the artist, add intrigue: in this work, a group of colourfully dressed rascals discuss business on a rock in the foreground.
Rosa’s interest in landscape was formed early in his career. It is known that he painted oil sketches, without preparatory drawings, of the coastline and landscape around Naples, where he was born. The immediacy, free brushwork, spontaneity and energy contained in these early sketches continued to energise his mature work.
His art was much admired and collected in England in the 18th century, as the turbulent aspects of nature he evoked – awe, terror, fear – perfectly fitted the current preoccupation with the Sublime. As Horace Walpole famously commented when crossing the Italian Alps on his Grand Tour in 1739, ‘Precipices, mountain torrents, wolves, rumblings – Salvator Rosa’. The artist’s reputation as a Romantic figure was enhanced after the publication of Lady Morgan’s biography in 1824. Although not the banditti rogue she described, he was an extravagant character – a significant poet and actor as well as a highly regarded artist. His reputation as one of the most original artistic personalities of 17th-century Italian art still stands, and his paintings continue to excite.

not on view

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