People and Nature in Two Works by Salvator Rosa

Bandits on a Rocky Coast (c.1656) by Salvator Rosa

In Salvator Rosa’s Bandits on a Rocky Coast (c. 1656), there is a fairly obvious diagonal line separating the top left half of the composition from the bottom right. Though the sky depicted in the scene is a light and cheerful blue, the clouds coming through it from the right look dark, as if a storm is coming through. The border is clean except for the top of the painting, where it almost appears as though the canvas is being taken over by the grey clouds. Before looking closely at the image, it appears that the landscape on the right of the image is simply a mass of black; however, the space is highly detailed, with many plants and intricate edges of the jagged cliffs, and a small natural bridge. A rough tree stands prominently on this side of the image, with its few branches twisted. This land is on the edge of a body of water, and though only a relative sliver of this water is visible, it gives the impression that it is expansive, and perhaps holds more of civilization on the other side of it. On the bottom of the left side, eight figures (the bandits named in the title) are gathered together at the water’s edge, perhaps plotting together.

These bandits straddle the dividing line that separates the light and dark sides of the composition, which references the idea that the bandits are simultaneously a part of nature and of civilization. They are too wild to be normal members of society and yet they can never truly be a part of nature. The incredibly dark, almost unreadable, grouping of jagged land forms represents how unknown and mysterious the wild is. The dark clouds in the image are coming from the same side these hills are on, further emphasizing the danger lurking within.

Rocky Landscape with Hunters and Warriors (c. 1650-1670) by Salvator Rosa

Rosa uses a similar diagonal layout in the second painting I will be discussing, Rocky Landscape with Hunters and Warriors (c. 1650-1670). This separation is less about light versus dark in this painting, and more about how the landscape is split from the sky. In the center of the image there are three figures, either discussing something or fighting. There is another figure towards the right, aiming a gun, and there may be one to the left of the main figures. The hunters and warriors are distinguishable between either opposing side because of their clothing. The sky would be dark if not for the enormous white clouds blocking much of it out. Some of what appear to be man-made structures (perhaps houses) appear in the background, on the upper right side and just to the left of the main action happening in the center. The entirety of the landscape is composed of very rough cliffs and some segments of weather-worn trees, on their last branches. In the center of the bottom there is a small amount of a body of water.

The overall composition is much brighter than the one seen in Bandits, with most of the darkness focused around the edges to draw the viewer in. These people seem much tamer than others, as well; though they are still functioning in nature, these have made their homes here, and in some way have brought civilization with them. Perhaps the use of lighter and brighter colors in Hunters and Warriors alludes to Rosa feeling that this arrangement is better than the one featured in Bandits; while the bandits have turned to a life of crime and have no home that we can see, these hunters and warriors do have homes and are not trying to completely immerse themselves in nature. In both paintings, the figures are mostly located on the diagonal line created by Rosa’s composition. Both feature prominent, dark skies with clouds, dangerously rocky landscapes, and fairly eerie, nearly bare trees.

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One thought on “People and Nature in Two Works by Salvator Rosa

  1. This is a good visual analysis of these paintings. I’m curious at to what you think about the content (subject matter) of the works — what do these say about attitudes toward wilderness? Who is in wilderness? What happens there? Do you see where I am going with this line of thinking?

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