Rosa, Salvator

, an eminent painter, was the son of a land surveyor, and born at Naples in 1615. He was brought up under Francisco Francanzano, a painter of that city, and his relation, but was forced to get his bread by exposing his pictures to sale in stalls in the streets. Lanfranco, the painter, happening to pass by, bought one, and to encourage Salvator bespoke more. Salvator placing himself afterwards under Ribera, with whom he lived till he was twenty, and his father then dying, Ribera took him with him to Rome. After four years’ stay in that city, dur^ ing which Salvator made considerable progress in his art, | cardinal Brancacci carried him to his bishopric of Viterbo, where he painted several pieces. He staid some time at Naples, but gave the preference to Rome, and wherever he went he made himself' friends by his picturesque and poetic talents. As he notv began to have a name, prince John Charles of Medici, being at Rome, carried him to Florence, where he staid nine years, dividing his time between painting and poetry: he had a particular turn for satiric poetry; and understood music. The literati at Florence were highly delighted with his conversation; and his house was a kind of academy, where plays written by himself were often represented, and he constantly played some part in them.

He painted many pieces for the grand duke and the prince his son, who rewarded him generously. The MafTei carried him to their seat at Volterra, where he painted several pictures, residing there upwards of a year: but literature took up the greatest part of his time, and it was here that he composed his satires, of which there have been several editions.

After his return from Florence he fixed at Rome, where for a long time he would sell none of his paintings but at an extravagant price. He did not, however, like to be called a landscape painter, his ambition being for the character of an able history painter. He paiuted several pieces for the churches, which are indisputable proofs of his capacity for history: but his business was frequently interrupted by his turn for poetic satire, which he often interspersed with songs, and took a pleasure in reciting them. The philosopher appeared in his manner of living; and he endeavoured to shew it also in his paintings, always conveying in them some moral. Such was his iove of liberty, that he declined entering into the service of any prince, though often invited. He was much of an humourist, and loved a practical joke. When the painters of Rome had refused to receive him into the academy of St. Luke, on a holiday, when he knew they were to meet, and several paintings were exposed in the diurch of that saint, he caused one of his own to be carried thither, in which he had concealed his manner; and shewing it, told them that it was done by a surgeon to whom hey had judged very ill in refusing a place in their academy, having the greatest need of one to set the limbs which they daily dislocated or distorted. Another time, finding a harpsichord on which he had sat down to play, good for | nothing, “I’ll make,” says he, “this harpsichord worth at least 100 crowns.” He painted on the lid a piece which immediately fetched that money. A gentleman desirous of having the pictures of his friends in his gallery, desired Salvator to draw them. He did it, but made all the portraits caricatures, in which he excelled: but as he drew himself, among the rest, in the same manner, none could be offended.

He was a man of a very generous spirit, and worked for reputation, rather than gain. A man of great wealth had been long treating with him for a large landscape, and every time he came Salvator raised his price 100 crowns. The gentleman expressing his surprise, Salvator told him, that with all his riches he could not purchase it; and to put an end to the other’s importunities, destroyed it before his face. The constable Colonna bespoke a large painting, on which Salvator bestowed great pains, and delivered it, with out asking any price. The constable generously sent him a purse of gold. Salvator, seeing his work rewarded so liberally, sent the constable a second piece, which was no less generously paid for than the first: a third, and a fourth followed; and at each time the constable augmented the sum. On receiving a fifth painting, he sent Salvator two purses equal to the first, and thanked him; but told him the match was not equal; for he could not so easily fill purses with gold, as Salvator could cover canvas with fine paintings.

After a long stay at Rome, Salvator was seized with a dropsy; and during his illness he married his mistress, a Florentine, by whom he had had several children. It was with the utmost reluctance he consented to this marriage. He had long known her to be a bad woman of low birth, and she had always behaved rather like a mistress over him, than a servant. He knew that he had shared her favours with several others: and the thoughts of her character made her, at this time, the object of his aversion; because he foresaw the loss of his honour (if he took her for a wife) of which he was extremely tender. He was persuaded, however, by the importunities of his confessor. A tedious illness made no alteration in his characteristic humour. He ended his daysatRome, in 1673, aged fifty-eight.

In both the sister arts of poesy and painting, he was esteemed one of the most excellent masters that Italy produced in the seventeenth century. In the first, his | province was satire; in the latter, landscapes, battles, havens, c. with little figures, which are still admired, and are purchased at high prices. Mr. Fuseli says that, without choice of form in design, or much propriety of conception, by picturesque combination, concordant tones, facility and dash of pencil, he obtained a conspicuous place among historic painters. Though his talent was better adapted to smaller dimensions, he knew how to fill an altar-piece or a large canvas with striking and terrific effects, of which the conspiracy of Catiline, in the house of Martelli at Florence, is a powerful instance. In landscape he was a genius. His choice is the original scenery of Abruzzo, which he made often, though not always, a vehicle of terror: he delights in ideas of desolation, solitude, and danger, impenetrable forests, rocky or storm-lashed shores; in lonely dells leading to dens and caverns of banditti, alpine ridges, trees blasted by lightning or sapped by time, or stretching their extravagant arms athwart a murky sky, louring or thundering clouds, and suns shorn of their beams. His figures are wandering shepherds, forlorn travellers, wrecked mariners, banditti lurking for their prey, or dividing their spoils. But this genuine vein of sublimity or terror forsook him in the pursuit of witcheries, apparitions, and spectres; here he is only grotesque or capricious. His celebrated witch of Endor is a hag; and cauldrons, skeletons, bats, toads, and herbs, are vainly accumulated to palliate the want of dignity and pathos in Saul, and of sublimity in the apparition.

Among some musical Mss. purchased at Rome in 1770, was the music-book of Salvator Rosa, in which are contained, not only airs and cantatas set by Carissimi, Cesti, Luigi, Cavalli, Legrenzi, Capellini, Pasqualini, and Bandini, of which the words of several are by Salvator Rosa; but eight entire cantatas written, set, and transcribed by this celebrated painter himself. The book was purchased of his great grand-daughter, who inhabited the house in which her ancestor lived and died. The hand-writing was ascertained by collation with his letters and satires, of which the originals are still preserved by his descendants. The historians of Italian poetry, though they often mention Salvator as a satirist, seem never to have heard of his lyrical productions. This book is fully described by Dr. Burney. 1


Argenville, vol. II.—Sir Joshua Reynolds’s Works.—Pilkington by Fuseli.— Dr. Burney in Rees’s Cyclopædia.