José (Jusepe) de Ribera (1591–1652) is regarded as the foremost Spanish printmaker active before Goya and one of the greatest of all seventeenth-century virtuosos of etching. His reputation is all the more remarkable since there are only eighteen etchings known to have been made by his hand. Ribera's career as a printmaker seems to have been limited to a relatively short period, between 1620 and 1630. All his etchings were made in a single decade, towards the beginning of his artistic career: a fact that suggests they were primarily a means of earning money while he was trying to establish himself as a young Spanish artist in Italy. With the help of these prints, Ribera could make his art known to a broader audience and attract the attention of potential patrons and clients.
However, his prints show such sovereign mastery of technique and make such extensive use of the medium's expressive possibilities, that it seems unlikely his interest in the medium was purely financial or superficial. As an experienced draughtsman, Ribera must have been particularly taken by the spontaneous, sketch-like appearance of etchings. To this day, he is regarded as the most important Spanish peintre-graveur, but he could only achieve this in Italy, amid that country's highly advanced culture of artistic printmaking. Curiously, the young Spaniard's prints thus represent the high point of seventeenth-century Italian etching. A selection of his most interesting works can be seen in this cabinet exhibition.
A cabinet exhibition presented by the Kupferstichkabinett in the Gemäldegalerie.
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