Salvator Rosa - Dulwich Picture Gallery Exhibition 15 September - 28 November

Salvator Rosa (1615-1673) was one of the boldest and most inventive artists and personalities of the Italian 17th century. He introduced new styles of painting; allegorical pictures distinguished by a haunting and melancholy poetry, fanciful portraits of romantic and enigmatic figures, macabre and horrific subjects. Others are philosophical, bringing into art some of the major scientific and learned concerns of his age. His early works, particularly the landscapes, are bright and rich in picturesque motifs; crumbling towers, boats on the sea shore, colourful travellers crossing perilous bridges and bandits lying in wait in rocky ravines. But he also moved towards a grander style and his mature works are full of atmosphere, characterised by a dazzlingly free technique and the use of dark but rich colours. No other artist has created windswept landscapes of such expressive and emotional power, or figures of such dark and brooding intensity. Rosa invented an emphasis on freedom and sincerity. He aimed to intrigue powerful patrons by his mysterious and independent personality. Unlike Caraveggio, Rosa was truly a rebel, a radical and anti-cleric who was often associated with libertine thinking often placing himself in very real danger from the Inquisition.

The last major Rosa exhibition was held at the Hayward Gallery in 1973. Rosa’s paintings will be hung thematically. This will deepen our understanding of the different genres of painting to which Rosa made so fundamental a contribution. Themes will range from a selection of portraits to landscapes pastoral, heroic anchorite. Some of these are stark works and the power of the elements pulses through them. Linked to themes of magic and science, they convey a 17th century sense of the awesome grandeur of the natural world revealed by the new science. Throughout his life Rosa mixed with scientists, philosophers and men of letters and delighted in the most unusual and learned subjects. A section of the exhibition will demonstrate this fascination. The climax of the show will be a group of large figure paintings at the centre of Rosa’s interests. Together they show the strangeness and eccentricity of the artist and his gifts for creating intense and highly personal poetry.

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