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Work The Adoration of the Shepherds

Department of Paintings: Spanish painting

The Adoration of the Shepherds

© 1999 RMN / Franck Raux

Paintings
Spanish painting

Author(s):
François de Vergnette

The shepherds have come to worship and adore the newborn infant Jesus in the stable. Ribera's original treatment of the theme met with great success in his day. In this work, painted in Naples two years before his death, Ribera succeeds in creating a happy blend of naturalism and classicism. The sheepskin garb worn by one of the shepherds is depicted with great precision, bringing remarkable monumentality and clarity to the composition.

The simple faith of the shepherds

The radiant infant Jesus is lying in the straw of a manger, turning his head towards one of the shepherds come to worship. Mary is kneeling behind him, her hands together in prayer, her eyes lifted to heaven. Joseph is beside her, his hands crossed on his chest, looking down and contemplating the infant Jesus. In the foreground, a kneeling shepherd is deep in prayer. Another, in the background on the left, is taking off his hat. In the middle ground on the right, an elderly woman with a basket is looking out at the viewer. The shepherds have brought the baby the gift of a lamb. The scene conveys intense religious faith. The subject of the simple yet profound faith of the shepherds was very popular in the seventeenth century in all the Catholic countries in Europe; the Adoration of the Shepherds by Le Brun, also in the Louvre, is another fine example. The scene as painted by Ribera is taking place by day, although other contemporary artists generally showed the scene at night. Ribera's treatment of the scene also differs in that the Virgin is shown at prayer in the manner of medieval works on the same theme. Towards the end of his life, Ribera turned away from dramatic scenes, concentrating instead on peaceful subjects such as this one.

A Spaniard at the Academy of Saint Luke in Rome

Its medium-size format indicates that originally this work probably decorated a private chapel in a palace or church. Ribera painted it in Naples two years before his death, as the date, 1650, and signature show. The signature also reflects Ribera's deep attachment to Spain, the land of his birth. He left Spain for Rome, where he settled for some years, moving in the same circles as Caravaggio. He moved to Naples in 1616 and remained there for the rest of his life. Beside his signature, Ribera proudly noted that he was a member of the Academy of Saint Luke in Rome. When he painted this picture, he was growing closer to artists working in the classical movement in Rome. His final years were dogged by ill health and financial hardship, which is perhaps why his late works are gentler than his early paintings.

A perfect marriage of naturalism and classicism

This Adoration of the Shepherds is a fine example of the marriage of naturalism and classicism that Ribera achieved in his last works. The detailed depiction of the rough hands of the shepherds and the realistic-looking sheepskin one of them wears are typical of the naturalism that marked Ribera's style. The shepherd on the right and the old woman are also realistic depictions. Yet Ribera brings a note of classical grandeur to the scene. The figures radiate tranquility and their faces are serene. Their gestures are particularly important, as in the Bolognese paintings by the Carracci family. The gracious expressions of Mary and Jesus are reminiscent of the elegant paintings of Guido Reni. The scene is bathed in natural light, like all of Ribera's paintings after 1630. This highlights the superb lapis lazuli blue of Mary's robes.

Bibliography

Véronique Gerard Powell dans Ecoles espagnole et portugaise, catalogue du département des peintures du musée du Louvre, Paris, RMN, 2002, p. 222-224.
Nicolas Spinosa, Ribera, Naples, 2003, p. 217, 225, 226, 340.



Technical description

  • Jusepe de RIBERA (Játiva, 1591-Naples, 1652)

    The Adoration of the Shepherds

    1650

  • Oil on canvas

    H. 2.39 m; L. 1.81 m

  • Gift of Ferdinand IV de Bourbon, king of Naples

    INV. 939

  • Paintings

    Denon wing
    1st floor
    Murillo
    Room 26

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Additional information about the work

Signed and dated bottom right: "Jusepe Ribera, español academico romano - F. 1650"