Jusepe de Ribera: Man, Wine Bottle and Tambourine, 1631


In the painting of the Spanish-born artist Jusepe de Ribera (1591–1652) Man, Wine Bottle and Tambourine(1631), we see a good-humoured, ruddy-faced man rattling a tambourine with a wine bottle under his arm. Instead of being a depiction of a festive season, however, this is an allegory of the senses.

Jusepe de Ribera, who was born near Valencia in Spain, moved to Italy already as a young man. The exact date or route of his voyage of migration no-one has been able to prove, but in 1613 de Ribera was living in Italy, because at that time he joined the Academy of Saint Luke in Rome, which was meant for artists and is still working. His Roman art colleagues gave young Ribera the nickname “Lo Spagnoletto” – The Little Spaniard.

In 1616, however, de Ribera moved to Naples, according to one interpretation in order to avoid his debtors. There he married the painter Giovanni Bernardino Azzolino’s daughter Caterina, and started to consolidate his position in the artistic circles of the city.

It’s important to notice that in the 17th century Naples still belonged to the Kingdom of Spain. The commerce and cultural interaction between the different parts of the empire were active. Because of this, works by de Ribera ended up in Spanish collections, even though the artist never ever returned to his homeland again. Through his works, de Ribera transmitted Italian influences to Spanish art. Towards the end of his career, the working pace of the artist started to slow down, most probably due to illness. Jusepe de Ribera passed away in 1652.

Influences from Italian art can be seen in all of de Ribera’s production, which is understandable considering that the artist lived most of his life in Italy. In his early production, there are remarkable influences from Caravaggio’s art. These are reflected in the sharp contrasts between light and shadow of his painting Man, Wine Bottle and Tambourine (1631). In addition, the intense feeling of presence in especially those of de Ribera’s paintings that depict individual figures places him among the most impressive of Caravaggio’s followers.

Caravaggio also painted a few allegories. The word allegory comes from the Greek language and means talking in a different way. For example in art, the object of the depiction is shown through some other thing. Many of the meanings of the allegories have their origin in Antiquity, but in the Baroque of the Spanish Golden Age of the 17th century, allegories were still very popular. In many of the Italian allegories of the 17th century, you can see influences from the Flemish allegorical descriptions of folklife of the 16th century.

De Ribera painted several allegories of the senses. Also Man, Wine Bottle and Tambourine depicts the senses in a metaphorical way. By the tambourine, music and the sense of hearing are referred to, while the wine bottle is there to remind us of the sense of taste. The artist also invites the viewer to direct zes eye towards the text written on the surface of the painting.

On the basket protecting the bottle you can discern the text “Moscatella de Saregoso”, which means it’s probably about a slightly sweet dessert wine made from the muscat grape. The bottle under the man’s arm is very palpable, while handling the tambourine, on the other hand, requires a softer touch. As we can see, in his allegories de Ribera referred to the senses in a very multifaceted way, even though at first sight the motif of the work seems to consist of only one or two of the senses.

Jusepe de Ribera’s painting Man, Wine Bottle and Tambourine has been shown in international exhibitions as an example of the art of the Spanish Golden Age, and has been mentioned in important art historical studies.

Tomi Moisio

Jusepe de Ribera, Man, Wine Bottle and Tambourine
Jusepe de Ribera, Man, Wine-Bottle and Tambourine, 1631, oil on canvas, Gösta Serlachius Fine Arts Foundation. Photo: Yehia Eweis