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Women Gladiators
Ribera, Jusepe de, lo Spagnoletto
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Ribera, Jusepe de, lo Spagnoletto

Játiva, Valencia (Spain), 1591 - Naples (Italy), 1652

Ribera, Jusepe de, lo Spagnoletto See author's file

Women Gladiators

1636. Oil on canvas.
Not on display

This painting shows the finale of a brutal encounter between two female fighters. The woman on the right has attained the upper hand over her opponent, who has fallen injured to the ground, and is about to administer the coûp de grace. In the background, to the left, is a man in Roman military dress resting on a staff, and behind the wall of the arena stand soldiers and male civilians watching the spectacle. The composition is framed by diagonally arranged spears which emphasise the military character of the scene. But what in fact is the subject of the picture?

The early Prado catalogues record that the painting shows a duel that took place in 1552 in the presence of the Viceroy of Naples, the Marquis of Vasto, between two Neapolitan women, Isabella de Carazi and Diambra de Petinella, over their love of a handsome youth named Fabio de Zeresola. However, there are difficulties with the proposal: none of the figures in the background can be reasonably identified as either the Marquis of Vasto -whose likeness was well known in Ribera’s time and who by 1552 had been dead for six years- or with de Zeresola. Isabel Mateo in 1990 proposed that Ribera had conceived the painting as a political allegory reflecting the nationalist conflict between Neapolitans and their Spanish overlords (which would eventually explode in Masaniello’s revolution of 1647); but this, too, seems highly unlikely given Ribera’s close relationship with the viceregal court, where he occupied an official position. If one considers that the painting was probably commissioned from the artist for King Philip IV through his Neapolitan viceroy, the Conde de Monterrey, it is inconceivable that it represents anti-Spanish or anti-royal aspirations.

André Stoll has suggested that Ribera’s painting should be understood as an allegory of Counter-Reformation feminine virtue over courtly vice, but it is more likely is that it was commissioned as part of the group of works showing ancient Roman subjects, specifically circus games, which were being painted in the mid 1630s by Giovanni Lanfranco, Giovanni Francesco Romanelli, Andrea de Lione and others to decorate the halls of the newly built Buen Retiro Palace in Madrid. The imagery is perfectly compatible with Ribera’s vision of the ancient world, as reflected in his scenes of the martyrdom of the Apostles and in his large painting of Saint Janarius emerging unscathed from the Furnace, 1646 (Cappella di San Gennaro, Naples), which is set in the second century AD. This work is first recorded in the Alcázar Palace, Madrid, in 1666. Female gladiators were not uncommon in ancient Rome. The Roman historians Dio Cassius and Suetonius describe games held in honour of the Emperors Nero and Domitian in which women fought each other, and Juvenal in one of his satires thunders in disgust against this particular spectacle. While it is unlikely that Ribera knew ancient images of female gladiators (very few actually survive), he must have known the print of women fighters in Justus Lipsius’s Saturnalium (1604), an illustrated compendium of Roman gladiatorial practices used as a source by other artists engaged in Buen Retiro commissions. Ribera gave the women classicising hairstyles and flowing Roman style robes. The composition is severe and monumental and the main figures have been invested with a classical solemnity, apparent in the profile view of the standing gladiator.

The skilful restoration of the work carried out in 1991-92 brought out its remarkable chromatic richness, especially the bright orange and elegant mauves of the women’s robes, which reflect Ribera’s interest, from the mid 1630s onwards, in Venetian Cinquecento painting (Text drawn from Finaldi, G.: Italian Masterpieces. From Spain´s Royal Court, Museo del Prado, 2014, p. 202).


Technical data

Inventory number
Ribera, Jusepe de, lo Spagnoletto
Women Gladiators
Height: 235 cm; Width: 212 cm
Historia de Roma Antigua, Palacio del Buen Retiro
Royal Collection (New Royal Palace, Madrid, "primera sala de la Furriera", 1747, no. 124; New Royal Palace, Madrid, "antecámara de la serenísima infanta", 1772, no. 124; New Royal Palace, Madrid, "pieza de tocador", 1794; Royal Palace, Madrid, "cuarto del mayordomo mayor", 1814-1818, no. 124?).

Bibliography +

Museo Nacional del Prado, Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1985, pp. 559.

Mateo Gómez, Isabel, El 'Combate de mujeres' de Ribera, Boletín del Museo del Prado, XI, 1990, pp. 15-18.

Spinosa, Nicola, Ribera, Electa, Nápoles, 2003, pp. 298.

Úbeda de los Cobos, A., El ciclo de la Historia de Roma antigua, En: El Palacio del Rey Planeta, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2005, pp. 169-189.

Úbeda de los Cobos, A., El Palacio del Rey Planeta. Felipe IV y el Buen Retiro, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2005, pp. 228-230.

Finaldi, Gabriele, En: El Palacio del Rey Planeta, Felipe IV y el Buen Retiro, Úbeda de los cobos, A. (ed), El Palacio del Rey Planeta: Felipe IV y el Buen Retiro, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2005, pp. 228-230.

Spinosa, Nicola, Jose de Ribera : Bajo el Signo de Caravaggio (1613-1633), Caja Duero, Barcelona, 2005.

Spinosa, Nicola, Ribera: la obra completa, Fundación Arte Hispánico, Madrid, 2008, pp. 408.

Requena Bravo de Laguna, José Luis, Una 'Morte di Lucrezia' di Paolo Domenico Finoglio, Paragone, LXII, 2011, pp. 42-45 [43].

Finaldi, G, Jusepe de Ribera 'Women gladiators fighting' En:, Italian masterpieces from Spain's royal court, Museo del Prado, National Gallery of Victoria Thames & Hudson, 2014, pp. 202.

Martínez Leiva, Gloria; Rodríguez Rebollo, Ángel, El inventario del Alcázar de Madrid de 1666. Felipe IV y su colección artística, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Madrid, 2015, pp. 579 nº 887.

Bake-ituna / Tratado de Paz /Traité de Paix / Peace Treaty, Fundación Donostia/San Sebastián, San Sebastián, 2016, pp. D.12.1, 248.

Portús Pérez, Javier, Velázquez and the Celebration of Painting: The Golden Age in the Museo del Prado, The Yomiuri Shimbun: The National Museum of Western Art, Tokio, 2018, pp. n.30.

Other inventories +

Inv. Fernando VII, Palacio Nuevo, 1814-1818. Núm. ¿124?.
Cuarto del Mayordomo Mayor [...] {22112} 124 / 3 varas alto dos y media ancho Dos gladiatores riñendo = Ribera

Inv. Felipe V, Palacio Nuevo, 1747. Núm. 124.
PINTURAS EXISTENTES ANTIGUAS [...] En la primera Sala de este Oficio [...] {10342} 124 / Otro lienzo de vnas mugeres batallando con otras diferentes figuras de tres varas escasas de largo y dos y media de ancho original del Españoleto en 6 mil rs.

Inv. Carlos III, Palacio Nuevo, 1772. Núm. 124.
Antecámara de la Serenísima Infanta [...] {12865} 124 / Una pintura que contiene dos mujeres luchando en vn cerco y en las circunferencias varios espectadores de dos varas y media en quadro del expresado Españoleto

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 545.
Ribera. / 545. Asunto desconocido. / Dos matronas combaten en un circo con espada y escudo en presencia del pueblo y soldados (CL.) / Alto 8 pies, 5 pulg, 3 lin; ancho 7 pies, 7 pulg

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1872-1907. Núm. 988.
988.-Combate de mujeres. / Alto 2,35. Ancho 2,12.-Lienzo. / (Véase bajo el núm. 518 la explicación probable del suceso representado en el presente caudro.) / En un palenque, improvisado al parecer al pié de los muros de una fortaleza, dos gallardas matronas, armadas de espada y escudo, traban una sangrienta lucha. Cae una de ellas en el suelo, y la contraria, avanzando, levanta el brazo como para pasarla el pecho. Hay pueblo y gente de guerra quecontempla el fondo desde una valla el furibundo combate, y dentro del palenque está un personaje, armado también, con ambas manos descansando...

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos III, Palacio Nuevo, 1794. Núm. s. n..
Pieza de Tocador [...] [331] Dos varas y media en quadro: Dos mugeres gladiatoras riñendo, la una rendida en el Suelo, con éspada en mano y varios expectadores. Rivª. ... 30.000

Inscriptions +

Jusepe de Ribera valenciano, f. 1636
Inscribed in black. Front, lower right corner

Exhibitions +

Velázquez and the Golden Age
16.11.2018 - 03.03.2019

Velázquez and the Celebration of Painting: the Golden Age in the Museo del Prado
13.06.2018 - 14.10.2018

Velázquez and the Celebration of Painting: the Golden Age in the Museo del Prado
24.02.2018 - 27.05.2018

Velázquez and the Celebration of Painting: the Golden Age in the Museo del Prado
20.02.2018 - 27.05.2018

Tratado de Paz
San Sebastián
17.06.2016 - 02.10.2016

Italian Masterpieces from Spain's Royal Court. Museo Nacional del Prado
16.05.2014 - 31.08.2014

El palacio del Rey Planeta. Felipe IV y el Buen Retiro
06.07.2005 - 30.10.2005

José de Ribera
Nueva York NY
15.09.1992 - 29.11.1992

José de Ribera
02.06.1992 - 16.08.1992

José de Ribera
27.02.1992 - 17.05.1992

Cinco Siglos de Arte Español
05.10.1987 - 05.01.1988

Displayed objects +

Shield / Coat of Arms


Lances / Spears

Update date: 09-04-2022 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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