Salvator Rosa was born in Naples, and it was there that he had the greater part of his artistic training, first in the workshop of his brother-in-law Francesco Fracanzano, then with Aniello Falcone and Jusepe de Ribera. The essential nature of his style remained rooted in his Neapolitan origins, even once he had permanently quit Naples for Rome and Florence. A flexible, creative personality, Rosa was able to modify his pictorial style with ease, adapting it to the subject matter of his choice, always diverse and varied, sometimes bizarre, leaning when it suited him towards the Tuscan and Roman pictorial idioms and deploying his brush in expressive tours de force that approach their artistic summit in the landscape paintings of his mature years. On the other hand, in his linguistic style - which is passed down to us in his poetry (the Satire of 1649 and later) and his letters - as well as in his numerous drawings, the idiom remains profoundly Neapolitan. Having left Naples for Rome, Rosa presented himself as a painter of bambocciate in the manner of Falcone, as well as of Riberesque figure paintings such as the Saints Jerome and Nicholas of Tolentino in Fabriano. In his mature years, during which his painting became literary, erudite and ever more rarefied, aspects of the manner he had acquired in his youth re-emerged, as numerous paintings over the course of the fifth and sixth decades of the seventeenth century demonstrate. These bear the clear imprint of a rapid execution, constructed of economical, broad brushstrokes, dominated by brown pigments, contrasts of light and shade providing a concise modelling and powerful poses and facial expressions; to this period belong the Philosopher at Kedleston Park, Poetry and Music in the Palazzo Barberini, Rome, Prometheus in the Galleria Corsini, Rome and the numerous Testacce painted in the 1650s for Giovanni Battista Ricciardi.
This hitherto unpublished, unlined Self-Portrait is characterised by the unfettered strokes and free handling typical of Rosa's graphic work, with brown pigments over a ground layer left partly visible, and by the immediacy of the alla napoletana style that the painter also used, for example, in the intimate Portrait of Lucrezia, his wife, painted in the 1650s and now in the Palazzo Barberini, Rome (fig. 1). Serious and dignified, intense and perhaps also sad, but not frowning (as is sometimes the case in other self-portraits in the guise of a satirist-philosopher), this self-portrait is a close version of that now in the Detroit Institute of Arts, and of another, of larger dimensions and more complex iconography, in the Palazzo Chigi Saracini, Siena. The Detroit picture shows strong affinities with the Philosopher in the National Gallery, London, where the facial expression, the pose and even the hair appear slightly contorted, suggesting a theatrical disdain; the Chigi Saracini painting, on the other hand, seems to derive from this new and more 'romantic' prototype, although the Chigi picture is weaker in execution, flatter, and possibly painted by another artist at a slightly later date. The existence of three versions of this self-portrait poses some problems and, in the absence of documentary evidence, it is more difficult to establish a stylistic chronology for them. Nevertheless, it is quite likely that Salvator Rosa, who, ever a well-versed theatrical actor, loved using his own features to portray philosophers and warriors, spectators and travellers (see B. Daprá, 'I ritratti di Salvator Rosa', in Salvator Rosa tra mito e magia, exhibition catalogue, Naples, Museo di Capodimonte, 2008, pp. 58-65), set out to paint his own portrait in different styles, each with a slightly differing accent; one (the present picture) alla napoletana and another (the Detroit picture) alla fiorentina.
We are grateful to Professor Caterina Volpi for confirming the attribution on inspection of the original and for providing the above catalogue entry. She will be including the painting in her forthcoming catalogue raisonné on the artist. We are also grateful to Helen Langdon, who favours the attribution to Rosa, and to Xavier F. Salomon, who, while acknowledging the very high quality of the painting, does not believe it to be by the artist. An initial request has been made for the loan of this picture (ex-catalogue) for the exhibition Salvator Rosa (1615-1673): Bandits, Wilderness and Magic, which will be taking place from September 2010 at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, and from December 2010 to March 2011 at the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth.