The Beggar known as the Club-foot by Jusepe de Ribera

The Beggar known as the Club-foot by Jusepe de Ribera (1642)

Jusepe de Ribera, the Spanish painter, also known as José de Ribera was born in Játiba near Valencia in 1591.  After visiting Parma, Padua and Rome, he settled down in Naples in 1616, which in those days was under the control of Spain.  It was here that he spent most of his career.  His developed style of painting owed a lot to the influence of the Italian artist of the day, Caravaggio.  Ribera became a painter to the Spanish Viceroy who was later succeeded by the Duke of Monterey, a person who secured many commissions for him from the Augustine Monastery in Salamanca.  Ribera remained in Naples where he died in 1652.

His painting Boy with a Club Foot, which can be found in the Louvre, Paris, is today’s featured work of Art and was completed in 1642 and highlights his more mature style both through its composition and also because of the subject.  It is believed a Flemish art dealer had commissioned this painting as the theme of beggars in paintings such as The Beggars by Bruegel the Elder and Murillo’s The Young Beggars had become very popular.

The painting, which is typical of his more mature style, shows a disabled Neapolitan beggar, probably a dwarf  (originally the painting was entitled The Dwarf) with a club foot, clutching a piece of paper with the words “ Da mihi elimosinam propter amorem dei” which translates to “For the love of God give me alms”.  The reason for this piece of paper to be held by the young beggar could be that it was his licence to allow him to beg, which was mandatory in Naples in those days.   It also could be, as some have interpreted, that he, the boy, suffered from speech problems and was unable to voice his request for help.  It is interesting to see how Ribera has portrayed the beggar, not as a grovelling child, looking downcast and miserable in some dark and grubby alleyway.  Here before us is not a down-trodden child but a youngster, standing upright, with a cheeky smiling face and a look of defiant pride as he almost gaily carries his crutch over his shoulder, set against a light and tranquil background. The boy is shown close up and we are looking at him from a low viewpoint which gives the subject a sort of monumentality and self-esteem which would normally have been afforded to a noble person.