Ever since I was a wee nipper (well since I lived in London in my 20s) I have been rather intrigued by the Italian painter, poet and philosopher (can I have a ‘P’ please Bob?) Salvator Rosa. I first met him – well, his oeuvre, since he’s been dead over 300 years – in the National Gallery with the brooding, enigmatic self-portrait Philosophy…
Always having been a big fan of the dark, passionate type, I find his enigmatically grumpy face quite alluring – especially teemed with the inscription which loosely translates as “be silent unless what you have to say is better than silence”. How true, I tell myself!
So, having again visited him recently, why do I like Rosa?
- He was mega talented.
- In his time he was incredibly popular and famous, yet no-one knows who he is – don’t we all enjoy having something secret that we don’t share with anyone – oh bugger, you all know now…
- His life (and paintings) are dark, brooding, mysterious – I like!
- He eschewed dull biblical paintings – on the whole – in favour of bandits, creatures of the dark, mythology and witches.
- Rosa was a rebel and refused to conform to popularity, causing arguments and localised stomping off and slamming of doors etc.
- Amazingly he was also an accomplished poet, philosopher, actor and musician.
- He scares schoolchildren (see below!)
In my latest visit I vox-popped (oo-er) the public and the guard on duty told me that schoolchildren are either terrified of, or intrigued by probably his most famous painting – Witches at their Incantations…
This painting does really need to be seen in the flesh, as a rather lovely beardy Frenchman told me “très creepy” – well actually that’s not what he said – rather “dark, interesting and creepy”. Just like me, I wanted to add whilst gently stroking his beard (but I didn’t). He then proceeded to gesticulate (in a Marcel Marceau-style mime) what I could only describe back to him as “droopy witches boobs”. How disappointing…
Some other hippy-dippy folk thought it was “a conversation piece” and “nice to see something dark and disturbing for a change” – other than The Levellers perhaps?
The Dutch chap I spoke to was tremendously knowledgeable about the use of light as a positive juxtaposition of the dark subject matter. I just stared and nodded as if I understood him. I didn’t feel able to share with him my favourite part of the painting, the hideous frog-like apparition in the bottom right hand corner, who bears more than a scary likeness to Steven Tyler from Aerosmith.
So if you are in Londinium pop into Room 32 of the National Gallery and have a look at these two paintings (not Steven Tyler though, but if he’s there see if he can spot the family resemblance). At this time there are two other Rosa paintings there, so you will be spoilt for choice!
Happy art and crafting!