Salvator Rosa – "Two Warriors"

Two Warriors (1656-1657)
Salvator Rosa, (Naples and Rome 1615-1673), Two Warriors (1656-1657), etching with drypoint, 5 1/2″ x 3 3/4″, on medium laid paper, margins as shown, third state of three (with Rosa’s rework of the left foot of the seated soldier), a relatively early 17th century impression, the drypoint still strong and bold [Wallace 44].

    That’s what the description said about this etching on the dealer’s site where I purchased it several years ago. When I first viewed this work I was struck with the similarity of etching styles between Rosa and the two Rembrandt restrikes that I own. They were contemporaries and exchanged their work with each other from what I’ve read [cite source].

I haven’t been able to verify the above facts given in Wallace 44 since I don’t own a copy or have access to that scholarly work but I do agree with the description about the image; dark and clear and rendered with such care that you can feel their anguish; the foreground warrior in a state of exhaustion and the tormented facial expression of the rear warrior. Here it is listed at The Art Institute of Chicago under a slightly different title.

I’m still awestruck whenever I view this piece, and I enjoy the simple routine of quietly removing it from its protective sleeve and holding it in my gloved fingers while looking closely at its fine detail under a bright light. The expressions of the warriors could only have been obtained from seeing and feeling their meaning in person, or by experiencing it first hand through the trials of life. And only the talent of an artist such as Rosa is able to convey that expression of emotion simply and directly through the skill of his own hand. This is also a prime example of art that can be gotten at realistic prices, and there’s nothing like owning original fine art. To hold and closely examine a lifetime1 etching in your hands that was personally produced by the artist some 350 years ago is both astounding and gratifying.

As much as I love this little piece that comes from a 64-etching series known as the Figurines, it doesn’t come close to the mastery of some of his other etchings such as Democritus in Meditation, or Rescue of the Infant Oedipus. These allegorical works not only illustrate Rosa’s talent as a fine etcher, but also gives us a good glimpse into his renown character.

Here’s a short biography taken from the Web Gallery of Art:
“Salvator Rosa was an Italian Baroque painter and etcher of the Neapolitan school remembered for his wildly romantic or “sublime” landscapes, marine paintings, and battle pictures. He was also an accomplished poet, satirist, actor, and musician.  Rosa studied painting in Naples, coming under the influence of the Spanish painter and engraver José de Ribera. Rosa went to Rome in 1635 to study, but he soon contracted malaria. He returned to Naples, where he painted numerous battle and marine pictures and developed his peculiar style of landscape – picturesquely wild scenes of nature with shepherds, seamen, soldiers, or bandits – the whole infused with a romantic poetic quality.

His reputation as a painter preceded his return to Rome in 1639. Already famous as an artist, he also became a popular comic actor. During the Carnival of 1639 he rashly satirized the famous architect and sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini, thereby making a powerful enemy. For some years thereafter the environment of Florence was more comfortable for him than that of Rome. In Florence he enjoyed the patronage of Cardinal Giovanni Carlo de’ Medici. Rosa’s own house became the center of a literary, musical, and artistic circle called the Accademia dei Percossi; here also Rosa’s flamboyant personality found expression in acting. In 1649 he returned and finally settled in Rome. Rosa, who had regarded his landscapes more as recreation than as serious art, now turned largely to religious and historical painting. In 1660 he began etching and completed a number of successful prints. His satires were posthumously published in 1710.”
This work, the aforementioned Rembrandt restrikes, and just a few others make-up the antique print category in my collection. The Rembrandt etchings again portray humanity as sensitive and as real as he must have felt and lived then, and they are a superb reference, but the lifetime Rosa etching has the additional aesthetic of having come directly from the artist’s hand which adds that much more to enjoy. And that’s saying a lot.

Where can you find lifetime prints and how much do they cost? You’ll be hard pressed finding them at your local galleries since most of them will be promoting local artists (as they should be). If you are lucky enough to have a print dealer in your city I’d advise creating a close relationship with them. They can be invaluable to your education and a great resource when researching an unknown work. And don’t forget to patronize them for their time.

Cost is tricky. Famous names will always command the highest prices and most of us don’t have those kind of assets available, but if you discover an artist, new or old, that you really like and don’t have enough to cover it right then and there, make an offer. You’d be surprised how willing galleries and dealers can be to get you what you want. It took me almost a year to pay off an Emigdio Vasquez painting I had to have and the dealer was more than happy to help me out by arranging interest-free terms. As the old saying goes–it never hurts to ask.  You’ll also find a wealth of sources on the net, including eBay. But forgery is big business so put your initial trust into a known and reputable dealer.

You’ll find owning original art is greatly rewarding and well worth your efforts. Consider it a lifetime investment (and don’t forget to look at it now and then).


1. A work of art produced during the artist’s lifetime, presumed to be by his/her hand.


  1. Really an awesome sketch by Rosa. The countless emotion on the face of the soldiers gives a good hint about their lives. As a piece of art, it is surely a masterpiece.

  2. Even for being such a old drawing, it really does intrigue me. It looks like it took some time and Rosa did a pretty good job.