Published  01/04/2005

Salvator Rosa Rediscovered

Salvator Rosa Rediscovered

On 25 March 2005, an intriguing summer exhibition opened at Compton Verney House in Warwickshire, entitled 'Salvator Rosa: Wild Landscapes'. As Sir Joshua Reynolds (first President of the Royal Academy) claimed, Rosa's perspectives offered 'the power of inspiring sentiments of grandeur and sublimity'. One could say that Rosa was a particular kind of visual realist, showing a world that really existed. In his landscapes, elements such as rocky outcrops, twisted trees, vegetation and scattered waterfalls are compounded to create a vision of awe and apprehension; the Gothic world had returned again, complete with witchery. In the painting 'Witches at their Incantations' (Florence, 1646) now in the National Gallery, the entire mise en scène is dripping with Gothic horror: the naked, geriatric witches beneath the suspended corpse hanging from a twisted tree, the foreboding dark clouds of a leaden sky and the carving up of the victim's flesh. 'Human Fragility' (1656) by Rosa hangs in the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge. Here, death is parodied via a winged skeleton (a rarity of depiction even as early as the middle ages). Rosa was a master of the romantic imagination, and it is a powerful reminder of the reality of life, to travel in spring through the lush and verdant surroundings of Compton Verney House and to be confronted by a world of collapsing humanity.

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