RIBERA, Jusepe de
(b. 1591, Játiva, d. 1652, Napoli)
Oil on canvas, 164 x 92 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris
Standing in a sweeping landscape, dressed in hatcbed brown clothes, barefoot and shouldering a crutch, his disability is evident: his deformed foot is at the centre of the spectator's field of vision. In his left band, this pitiable creature holds a note with the inscription: "DA MIHI ELIMO/SINAM PROPTER/ AMOREM DEI" ("Give me alms, for the love of God").
Described in this way, the painting would appear to be an image of misery, humiliation and begging. Yet what meets the eye, contradicts such an unequivocal statement. The boy whose face is aged beyond his years stands proud and upright againt the landscape in the background. He looks directly downwards at the spectator with a relaxed gaze of experience and superiority. The boy's mouth is opened in a relatively unattractive gummy grin that permits no patronizing sympathy. Ribera has created a monument to the justice of God. He shows up our hierarchical thinking, our worldly expectations of the gratitude of the poor, to whom we give alms. The apparently miserable, valueless individual stands here like a monument admonisbing us to remember that all creatures are equal before God. This boy is not begging for mercy. He is claiming his right to it.