Salvator Rosa’s Lucrezia (c.1641)

This portrait of a woman holding a quill pen by Salvator Rosa is thought to depict a personification of Poetry. This is more than likely because Poetry's figure faces the canvas as the artist himself would have when painting it and he certainly thought of himself as a poet. She also, as painters do, looks out over her shoulder towards her model, in this case the artist himself in front of the "real" canvas. She has the pose of a painter. But what will she "write" on? Not the book because it is closed. The only alternative is the background. With a quill in place of brush she is about to paint the background: a "blank canvas" within the painting.

 

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Captions for image(s) above:

Salvator Rosa, Lucrezia as the Personification of Poetry (c.1641)

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This picture can be compared to a real "self-portrait", now owned by the Metropolitan Museum in New York. She has the same expression; her pose is similar to his; her face resembles his as a curator at the Metropolitan Museum noted; and they both hold pens, writing or about to write.3

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Captions for image(s) above:

Salvator Rosa, Self-Portrait

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Still more compelling is the form of their hair, wreath and headwrap: features sprouting out horizontally on both sides in exactly the same manner. This cannot be coincidence and, as far as I know, has also never been noted.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Left: Detail of Self-Portrait
Right: Detail of Lucrezia as...Poetry

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Whether or not the man's portrait is a self-portrait, he clearly represents the artist; and, as Poetry, her figure must too. She, a woman, represents the androgyny of Salvator's mind and, based on Donald Bruce's observation that she appears to be pregnant, his conception too.4 She is a visual metaphor for Salvator Rosa's conception of this very painting in his own creative mind.

Captions for image(s) above:

Left: Rosa, Self-Portrait

Right: Rosa, Lucrezia as...Poetry

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More Works by Salvator Rosa

Notes:

1. Wendy Wassyng Roworth, The Consolations of Friendships: Salvator Rosa's Self-Portrait for Giovanni Battista Ricciardi, Metropolitan Museum Journal 23, 1988,p. 113

2. As another example Van Gogh's "self-portraits" also contain a remarkable number of different noses, all without questions.

3. Roworth, ibid., p.106

4. Donald Bruce, "Salvator Rosa at The Dulwich Gallery", Contemporary Review, Dec. 1st, 2010 available at: http://www.faqs.org/periodicals/201012/2255092751.html 

 

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 21 Feb 2011. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.