Thursday, September 11, 2014

Jusepe de Ribera, Ixion

Jusepe de Ribera, Ixion, 1632

José de Ribera (1592-1652), better known as Jusepe, was a leading Spanish painter and printmaker.  Ribera spent much of his life in Naples where he was exposed to the work of Caravaggio whose influence can be clearly seen in this work.  Caravaggio was a pioneer of dramatic chiaroscuro and tenebrism, high contrast of light and dark tones with a prominent use of dark shadows, and Ribera was one of the many Baroque artists who followed in this style.  This scene from Greek mythology depicts the torture of Ixion in the Underworld.  Ixion was an ancient king of the Lapiths who married Dia, but refused to pay the agreed dowry to her father, Deioneus.  Deioneus stole Ixion's horses as payment.  Ixion retaliated by inviting his father-in-law to dinner and promptly throwing him into a fire.  This murder was a severe violation of the guest-host relationship (xenia-a compact protected by Zeus) and a serious crime.  However Zeus took pity on Ixion and invited him to a banquet where Ixion attempted to seduce Hera, once again violating the guest-host relationship.  Zeus made a cloud resembling Hera, known as Nephele, for Ixion to seduce instead, and the first centaurs were born from this union.  For his crimes, Ixion was expelled from Olympus and Zeus ordered Hermes to bind him to a wheel (sometimes a wheel of fire) that would spin eternally.  Ribera's painting shows the beginning of Ixion's torment; the wheel is barely visible in the background just above Ixion's torso and we can see the chain around Ixion's legs.  There is a devilish imp binding Ixion, perhaps meant to represent Hermes but is more likely a generic demon.  This painting is remarkable for its masterful use of chiaroscuro and for the depiction of Ixion's body.  The contorting muscles and twisting shape are rendered with incredible detail and realism.  Even barely showing Ixion's face, Ribera successfully communicated his suffering using his body.  Overall the painting is stunning in its intensity.  Ribera painted several mythological scenes, always portraying the darkness of the stories and the pain of the figures.

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