- Museum number
A saint tied to a tree; he is bending forward, his left hand placed on a rock near a cross, his left leg on the lower part of the rock. 1626
- Production date
Height: 232 millimetres
Width: 170 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- Modified text from McDonald 2013
This remarkable sheet, signed and dated 1626, is key to understanding Ribera's draughtsmanship toward the end of the first decade of his career in Naples. It provides a reference point for his other highly finished red chalk drawings (1946,0713.1411). The sheet cannot be connected with a painting and Ribera seems to have made it as an independent study. Beyond demonstrating his commitment to drawing and his skill as a draftsman, why did Ribera produce such a painstaking study? Manuela Mena suggests that its finish indicates that it might have been for a print which seems plausible given the position of the signature and the use of 'fecit' meaning 'made by', a term most often found on prints (Mena Marqués 1992). The saint has been always been identified as Albert but there is little certainty of this as the cross is a generic iconography. His lack of clear identity mitigates against the idea of the drawing being preparatory for a print, because in all of Ribera’s prints of saints, their identity is evident through their attributes and the context in which they are represented.
Drawing played a complex role in Ribera’s art; the large number of sheets that survive show that he drew for very different reasons. This drawing seems to have been a demonstration piece made at a time when he was becoming established and beginning to enjoy success in Naples. Two drawings neither of which are inscribed are regarded as close copies of Ribera’s saint tied to a tree, one in the British Museum (Ff,4.38) and the other in the Uffizi, Florence (2192F). The British Museum sheet is a superb study spoiled only by its poor condition. Ribera himself possibly made this copy in order to preserve the primary signed and dated sheet (hence its remarkably fine condition). Such exact copies were made by placing an oiled transparent sheet of paper over the primary drawing to trace the design.
The elderly saint's arms are tied to a tree restricting his movement as he bends and raises his left foot to rest on the rock. But the ropes are not tightly bound, allowing him considerable flexibility. His position provided Ribera the opportunity to show his body from several angles and to express different points of tension. Both heels are raised suggesting movement, capturing him in the moment between support, balance, instability, constraint and disentanglement. The saint is completely absorbed in his task and does not look toward the viewer. The closely cropped composition and lack of significant background detail emphasises the foreshortening of his body and the accuracy of drawing. The figure of an elderly saint might in this case simply be convenient to express these preoccupations. In another of his red chalk drawings the protaganist of the Man Tied to a Tree is also anonymous, the physical tension of the figure seemingly the work's main subject (Paris, Musée du Louvre, 18454). The position of the man’s legs and twisting hips with one leg thrust in front of the other is very similar to the torsion of the saint in the British Museum drawing.
The figure tied to a tree reflects themes of violence, torture and pain running throughout Ribera’s work. Various theories have been proposed to account for this interest including the instability of the environment in which he lived and his own trouble psyche. From a formal point of view, this drawing and Christ Beaten by Tormentor (1946,0713.1411) provided Ribera the scope to explore extreme positions of the human body, a demonstration of his facility in rendering unusual positions and anatomy. The musculature and tension transferred through movement is shown in the saint’s left shoulder, upper arm and his raised leg.
J. Brown, 'Jusepe de Ribera', exhib.cat., Princeton, 1973, no. 9; N. Turner, 'Italian Baroque Drawings', 1980, no. 60; 'Ribera: 1591-1652', exh.cat. Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1992, no. D13; M. P. McDonald, 'Renaissance to Goya: Prints and drawings from Spain', exh.cat., British Museum, London 2012, p.186; M. P. McDonald, ‘El trazo español en el British Museum: Dibujos del Renacimiento a Goya’, exh. cat., Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid 2013, no. 45; G. Finaldi (ed.), 'Jusepe de Ribera, The Drawings. Catalogue raisonné', Madrid, 2016, no. 48
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1976 BM, 'Spanish Drawings' (no cat.)
1980 Feb-Mar, Nottingham Uni, 'Spanish Art', no. 25
1984 BM, 'Master Drawings and Watercolours in the British Museum', no. 148
1992 May-Aug, Madrid, Museo del Prado, 'Jusepe de Ribera', no. D.13
2012/13 Sept-Jan, London, British Museum, 'Renaissance to Goya: Prints and Drawings from Spain'
2013 March-June, Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado, 'El trazo español en el British Museum …'
2013, Aug-Nov, Sydney, AGNSW, 'Renaissance to Goya'
2013-14, Dec-Mar, Santa Fe, New Mexico Museum of Modern Art, 'Renaissance to Goya'
2016-2017 22 Nov-19 Feb, Madrid, Museo Nacional Prado, Ribera, Master of Drawing
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number