Neapolitan by birth, Salvator Rosa spent most of his life between Florence and Rome. He developed a particular type of landscape that became especially popular in the following centuries. It is typical for Rosa to place groups of small figures, in the guise usually of bandits or soldiers, within the context of rugged and menacing landscapes. The ferocity of the protagonists of these pictures is highlighted by the character of the landscape around them. Paintings such as this were particularly loved and collected in eighteenth-century England.
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Title:Bandits on a Rocky Coast
Artist:Salvator Rosa (Italian, Arenella (Naples) 1615–1673 Rome)
Medium:Oil on canvas
Dimensions:29 1/2 x 39 3/8 in. (74.9 x 100 cm)
Credit Line:Charles B. Curtis Fund, 1934
The Artist: For a biography of Salvator Rosa, see the Catalogue Entry for Self-Portrait (21.105).
The Picture: In 1857, Gustav Friedrich Waagen (see Ref.) described “two very poetic and carefully executed landscapes” that hung above the doors in the drawing room of Osterley Park, Lord Jersey’s Georgian estate in West London. Bandits on a Rocky Coast was one of these pictures, along with a companion piece, Landscape with Herdsmen (Francis Lehman Loeb Art Gallery, Vassar College; 1935.3). Given the discrepancies in their sizes, Landscape with Herdsmen is not a pendant to Bandits on a Rocky Coast, but the two along with a Landscape with a Lake, Mountains, and Five Figures (Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota; SN154) comprise a group of landscapes from the late 1650s that prominently feature the mountainous topography of the Roman countryside. Helen Langdon (2010) has noted that this group of pictures demonstrates an approach to landscape painting influenced by Rosa’s contemporary, Gaspard Dughet, a French painter in Rome who specialized in pastoral landscapes, such as The Met’s Imaginary Landscape (08.227.1). The Neoclassical Gallery at Lord Jersey’s estate paired Rosa’s landscapes alongside other works by Dughet, Claude Lorrain, and Nicholas Poussin, a stunning showcase of the field of seventeenth-century landscape painting in Rome.
The sublime force of Bandits on a Rocky Coast comes from the strong diagonal of the flowing water that organizes the composition between the figures in the left foreground with the rocks at right that ascend from the natural arch over the water into a looming mass of cliffs. A “blasted tree” punctuates the right side of the canvas, executed with vibrant daubs of paint as if rustling in a stiff breeze, a characteristic touch of Rosa’s landscapes. Rosa had originally left the middle and upper right of the canvas open to the sky, but later built up the mossy crags as to evoke the awe-inspiring and enveloping power of the natural world. This seclusion also serves to add mystery to the soldiers and bandits who gather, discussing, gesturing, and resting: are they plotting their next attack, or resting from a previous one?
Stories of bandits terrorizing the countryside and their frequent appearance in Rosa’s sweeping landscapes in turn helped them become markers of the genre of the Sublime landscape. In eighteenth-century England, romance novels satiated the taste for titillating stories of these fearsome figures, always lurking around mysterious places or along the road, a taste that was in part cultivated by the popularity of Rosa’s landscapes. The proto-Romantic character of Rosa’s landscapes morphed into ideas about Rosa himself, culminating in Lady Morgan’s overly romanticized biography of the Neapolitan artist. To Lady Morgan and many others, Rosa was seen as a Gothic hero from a romance novel. She even read one of his etchings as a direct biographical anecdote, and believed that the artist had been taken captive by bandits in the mountains of Abruzzo and had almost given up hope of escaping when the chief’s daughter pleaded to save his life.
Bandits on a Rocky Coast was likely executed around 1656, following Luigi Salerno’s (1963) suggestion about the painting’s relation to Rosa’s Figurine, a series of more than thirty etchings of figures in various costumes and poses which were similarly executed. This series, dedicated to Rosa’s longstanding friend and patron Carlo de’ Rossi, included several examples of soldiers huddled together in a manner similar to the bandits in The Met’s picture (2012.136.299.9). Salerno remarked that the soldier gesturing in this painting is a nearly identical copy of one of the Figurine etchings, for which there is a preparatory drawing in the Musée du Louvre, Paris. The painting also relates closely to several other canvases done around the second half of the 1650s, particularly to the natural rock arches in Marina con arco roccioso (Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, Rome) and especially to the Finding of Moses (Detroit Institute of Arts, 47.92).
The painting’s recent cleaning revealed how carefully Rosa executed the work: he started with the two soldiers in the foreground and then built up layers of glazes and paint around them to create the dynamic atmosphere. This is not the type of picture that was quickly churned out, but rather labored over carefully, with pentiments that include a flag and an extra figure that were painted out to clarify the group of bandits. The glowing sky with sculptural clouds sweeping across the upper register, in particular, is achieved by Rosa vigorously pushing thick paint around the canvas. Bandits is one of the premier examples of the deeply poetic yet savage landscapes for which Rosa became celebrated throughout his career. As Richard Wallace (1979) noted, The Met’s painting “has in abundance all of the characteristics that appeal to the Romantics—a conspiratorial group of bandits isolated in the midst of a savage, hostile wilderness, one of them gesturing in the direction of the distant city near the horizon line; rugged, rocky cliffs and mysterious grottoes; a threatening sky, striking light effects, glittering highlighted textures and deep, gloomy shadows; and the broken, 'storm blasted' tree trunks.”
Hannah Segrave 2019
 Langdon 2010, p. 188.  Wallace 1979, no. 59.  Lady Morgan, The Life and Times of Salvator Rosa, London, 1824, pp. 117–19.  Salerno 1963, p. 124.
Inscription: Signed (lower left): SR [monogram?]
George Child-Villiers, 5th Earl of Jersey, Osterley Park, Isleworth, Middlesex (by 1857–d. 1859); Earls of Jersey, Osterley Park and Middleton Park, Bicester, Oxford (1859–1923); George Francis Child-Villiers, 9th Earl of Jersey, Middleton Park (1923–34; sale, Hampton & Sons, Middleton Park, May 28–June 1, 1934, no. 1966, as by Salvator Rosa, "Figures in a Rocky Coast Scene," companion to no. 1965, "Figures in a Rocky Landscape," 28 in. x 38 in.); [Durlacher, New York, 1934; sold to The Met]
New York. Durlacher Brothers. "A Loan Exhibition of Paintings by Salvator Rosa, 1615–1673," March 8–27, 1948, no. 10.
Honolulu Academy of Arts. "Four Centuries of European Painting," December 8, 1949–January 29, 1950, no. 12.
Art Gallery of Toronto. "Fifty Paintings by Old Masters," April 21–May 21, 1950, no. 12.
Tokyo National Museum. "Treasured Masterpieces of The Metropolitan Museum of Art," August 10–October 1, 1972, no. 79.
Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art. "Treasured Masterpieces of The Metropolitan Museum of Art," October 8–November 26, 1972, no. 79.
Wellesley College Museum. "Salvator Rosa in America," April 20–June 5, 1979, no. 4.
Naples. Museo di Capodimonte. "Salvator Rosa: tra mito e magia," April 18–June 29, 2008, no. 66 (as "Ladri sulla scogliera").
London. Dulwich Picture Gallery. "Salvator Rosa (1615–1673): Bandits, Wilderness and Magic," September 15–November 28, 2010, no. 26.
Fort Worth. Kimbell Art Museum. "Salvator Rosa (1615–1673): Bandits, Wilderness and Magic," December 12, 2010–March 27, 2011, no. 26.
Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. "Earth, Sea, and Sky: Nature in Western Art—Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," October 6, 2012–January 4, 2013, no. 99.
Beijing. National Museum of China. "Earth, Sea, and Sky: Nature in Western Art—Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," February 8–May 9, 2013, no. 99.
[Gustav Friedrich] Waagen. Galleries and Cabinets of Art in Great Britain. London, 1857, p. 273, describes "two very poetic and carefully executed landscapes" by Rosa, hung above the doors in the drawing room of Osterley Park, one of which was apparently this picture.
Durlacher Brothers. Letter to Harry B. Wehle. September 24, 1934, notes that Waagen published this work and Rosa's "Figures in a Rocky Landscape" (now Vassar College Art Gallery, Poughkeepsie, N.Y.) as a pair and suggests that they were "so used" in Lord Jersey's house (Osterley Park).
Louise Burroughs. "A Landscape by Salvator Rosa." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 30 (April 1935), pp. 84–86, ill.
"Appreciation for Salvator Rosa, 'Decadent'." Art Digest 9 (May 15, 1935), p. 7, ill.
Harry B. Wehle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine Paintings. New York, 1940, p. 260, ill., notes that the left-hand part of this composition appears in a painting by Rosa in the Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome.
Wylie Sypher. "Baroque Afterpiece, the Picturesque." Gazette des beaux-arts 27 (January 1945), p. 43, ill.
Josephine L. Allen and Elizabeth E. Gardner. A Concise Catalogue of the European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1954, p. 86.
Theodore Rousseau Jr. "A Guide to the Picture Galleries." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 12, part 2 (January 1954), p. 4.
Ottilie G. Boetzkes. Salvator Rosa: Seventeenth-Century Italian Painter, Poet, and Patriot. New York, 1960, pp. 140, 186, no. 47, ill.
Luigi Salerno. Salvator Rosa. Milan, 1963, pp. 48, 124, fig. 43, dates it about 1656, the period in which Rosa dedicated a series of small engravings to his patron Carlo de Rossi; suggests that the figures in this picture relate to the series of engravings; observes that the soldier here appears almost identical to a figure in one of the engravings and a drawing in the Louvre, Paris; draws parallels between this painting and a similar work in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg; observes that Rosa's landscape with figures in the Doria Pamphilj includes a poor copy of the Met's figural group.
Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Unpublished manuscript for catalogue of Neapolitan paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. [ca. 1970], date this picture about 1656, as it is related to the series of engravings dedicated in that year; remark that three figures at the left are repeated in the Doria Pamphilj picture, suggesting that the latter is either a preliminary study or, more likely, a roughly contemporaneous derivation of the MMA picture; note that our picture had a "companion piece" (now in the Vassar College Art Gallery), when it was in the collection of the Earl of Jersey, and although the dimensions are close there is no reason to believe they were conceived as a pair.
Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 177, 499, 607.
Julius S. Held and Donald Posner. 17th and 18th Century Art: Baroque Painting, Sculpture, Architecture. Englewood Cliffs, N.J., , p. 112.
Mario Rotili. Salvator Rosa incisore. Naples, 1974, p. 74, fig. 18–89b, dates this picture about 1656–58 and compares it with Rosa's "capricci".
Luigi Salerno. L'opera completa di Salvator Rosa. Milan, 1975, p. 96, no. 138, fig. 46 (color)
Dizionario enciclopedico Bolaffi dei pittori e degli incisori italiani. Vol. 10, Turin, 1975, p. 10, considers this picture representative of Rosa's work after his return to Rome in 1649—the period in which the artist revolted against genre painting and tended to idealize his subjects.
Peter Tomory. Catalogue of the Italian Paintings before 1800. Sarasota, 1976, p. 159, compares it with Rosa's "Landscape with a Lake, Mountains and Five Soldiers in the Foreground" (cat. no. 167), dating both about 1656.
Richard W. Wallace. Salvator Rosa in America. Exh. cat., Wellesley College Museum. Wellesley, Mass., 1979, pp. 14–15, 23, ill., observes that this picture "has in abundance all of the characteristics that appeal to the romantics—a conspiratorial group of bandits isolated in the midst of a savage, hostile wilderness, one of them gesturing in the direction of the distant city near the horizon line; rugged, rocky cliffs and mysterious grottoes; a threatening sky, striking light effects, glittering highlighted textures and deep, gloomy shadows; and the broken, 'storm blasted' tree trunks".
Howard Hibbard. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1980, pp. 293, 302, fig. 527 (color).
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 139, ill.
Andrea Busiri Vici D'Arcevia. Jacob de Heusch (1656–1701): un pittore olandese a Roma detto il "copia". Ed. Cinzia Martini. Rome, 1997, p. 159.
Andreas Stolzenburg inSalvator Rosa, Genie der Zeichnung: Studien und Skizzen aus Leipzig und Haarlem. Ed. Herwig Guratzsch. Exh. cat., Museum der Bildenden Künste, Leipzig. Cologne, 1999, p. 132, mentions it in connection with a drawing by Rosa of two seated men in a landscape (Teylers Museum, Haarlem), also possibly from about 1656.
Aurora Spinosa inSalvator Rosa: tra mito e magia. Exh. cat., Museo di Capodimonte. Naples, 2008, pp. 210–11, no. 66, ill. (color).
Wolfgang Prohaska inSalvator Rosa: tra mito e magia. Exh. cat., Museo di Capodimonte. Naples, 2008, p. 212, under nos. 67 and 68, states that it was probably painted about 1656; finds the figure group very similar to those found in two oval landscapes with bandits in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; adds that the MMA painting is very closely related to Rosa's "River Landscape with Apollo and the Cumaean Sibyl" (Wallace Collection, London).
Marco Chiarini. "Salvator Rosa." Art e dossier no. 243 (April 2008), ill. p. 39 (color), dates it about 1656.
Keith Christiansen inPhilippe de Montebello and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1977–2008. New York, 2009, p. 36.
Xavier F. Salomon inSalvator Rosa. Exh. cat., Dulwich Picture Gallery. London, 2010, p. 190.
Helen Langdon inSalvator Rosa. Exh. cat., Dulwich Picture Gallery. London, 2010, pp. 35, 132, 183, 188–89, no. 26, ill. p. 189 and frontispiece (color, overall and detail).
Nathalie Lallemand-Buyssens. "Jacques Courtois et Salvator Rosa." Salvator Rosa e il suo tempo, 1615–1673. Ed. Sybille Ebert-Schifferer, Helen Langdon, and Caterina Volpi. Rome, 2010, pp. 366, 371 n. 53, fig. 9, colorpl. XX, relates it to a print by James Peake titled "Bandits" after a lost painting by Jacques Courtois.
Peter Barnet and Wendy A. Stein inEarth, Sea, and Sky: Nature in Western Art; Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. [Tokyo], 2012, p. 162, ill. pp. 35, 163 (color).
Keith Christiansen inEarth, Sea, and Sky: Nature in Western Art; Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. [Tokyo], 2012, p. 249, no. 99, ill. [Chinese ed., Hefei Shi, 2013, pp. 220–21, no. 99, ill. (color)].
Caterina Volpi. Salvator Rosa (1615–1673): "pittore famoso". Rome, 2014, pp. 301, 518–19, 521, 523, no. 220, fig. 243 (color), ill. p. 523, relates the rocky arch to a similar one in the artist's "Finding of Moses" (ca. 1660–65; Detroit Institute of Arts).
Andrea Bayer. "Better Late than Never: Collecting Baroque Painting at The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Buying Baroque: Italian Seventeenth-Century Paintings Come to America. Ed. Edgar Peters Bowron. University Park, Pa., 2017, pp. 132–33, 153 n. 22, fig. 53 (color).
Virginia Brilliant. Italian, Spanish, and French Paintings in the Ringling Museum of Art. New York, 2017, p. 272, under no. I.162.
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