Naples in flesh and bones: Ribera’s Drunken Silenus and Saint Jerome

Edward Payne


Jusepe de Ribera did not begin to sign his paintings consistently until 1626, the year in which he executed two monumental works: the Drunken Silenus and Saint Jerome and the Angel of Judgement (Museo di Capodimonte, Naples). Both paintings include elaborate Latin inscriptions stating that they were executed in Naples, the city in which the artist had resided for the past decade and where he ultimately remained for the rest of his life. Taking each in turn, this essay explores the nature and implications of these inscriptions, and offers new interpretations of the paintings. I argue that these complex representations of mythological and religious subjects – that were destined, respectively, for a private collection and a Neapolitan church – may be read as incarnations of the city of Naples. Naming the paintings’ place of production and the artist’s city of residence in the signature formulae was thus not coincidental or marginal, but rather indicative of Ribera inscribing himself textually, pictorially and corporeally in the fabric of the city.

Keywords: allegory, inscription, Naples, realism, Jusepe de Ribera, Saint Jerome, satire, senses, Silenus

Full text: OAJ_issue6_Payne (pdf, 1.67 MB)


Biographical note

Edward Payne is Head Curator of Spanish Art at The Auckland Project and an Honorary Fellow at Durham University. He previously served as the inaugural Meadows/Mellon/Prado Curatorial Fellow at the Meadows Museum (2014–16) and as the Moore Curatorial Fellow in Drawings and Prints at the Morgan Library & Museum (2012–14). At the Morgan, Payne organised Visions and Nightmares: Four Centuries of Spanish Drawings (2014) and was a contributor to the Courtauld Gallery’s exhibition catalogue Goya: The Witches and Old Women Album (2015). Payne also contributed to the catalogue raisonné of Ribera’s drawings (2016) and curated the accompanying exhibition at the Meadows Museum: Between Heaven and Hell: The Drawings of Jusepe de Ribera (2017). With Xavier Bray, Payne is co-curating Ribera: The Art of Violence at the Dulwich Picture Gallery (2018–19).