ROSA, Salvator
(b. 1615, Arenella, d. 1673, Roma)

Self-Portrait as Philosopher of Silence

c. 1641
Oil on canvas, 116 x 94 cm
National Gallery, London

Salvator Rosa, who was active predominantly in Rome and Florence, was one of the most versatile and idiosyncratic artists of the 17th century. He used - and also criticized - every linguistic means for this appeal. He was a painter, engraver, poet, actor and musician in one. In about 1641 he painted his self-portrait.

Standing out against a sky whose colours are threatening, we see the dark silhouette of a three-quarter-length figure in a reddish-brown coat, holding in his right hand a tablet with an inscription: Aut tace / Aut Loquere meliora / silentio (Either be silent or say something better than silence). This inscription is a message urging us to keep silent, unless we really and truly have something to say which is better than silence. This challenging maxim, which Rosa had borrowed from classical aphorisms, is matched by a head inclined in melancholy fashion to one side, the eyes staring at the beholder with a penetrating gaze from beneath a black cap. Because the face with the energetically tight lips is only illuminated from one side, in the expression of the surly man is reflected the depression which also keeps the tension between the figure and the light of the sky.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.