One of the most complex personalities in the world of 17th-century art, Salvator Rosa was a painter, engraver, poet and actor. His work had a profound influence on generations of artists right through to the 19th century. He started painting in Naples under Francesco Fracanzano, then under Ribera and, lastly, under Aniello Falcone, specialising mainly in landscapes, battle scenes and genre works. He also made life sketches in oils, which was fairly unusual among his contemporaries.
In about 1635, he moved to Rome and shifted towards the style of the bamboccianti , from whom he soon withdrew, attracted as he was by the classicist teaching of Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin.
After 1645, while still in Florence, Rosa created a new thematic repertoire linked to the exoteric world of philosophy and magic which, like the landscapes he had recently invented, also influenced the pre-Romantic and Romantic painting of the 18th and 19th centuries. The Witchcraft scenes are particularly evocative and were some of the most effective works in Rosa’s figurative painting. They were rooted in the artist’s Neapolitan cultural background and adapted to the reassessment of empiricism and experimental research of his day, in which the figure of the erudite-magician-philosopher was the only one that would be able to discover the secrets of Nature.
In early 1649, the artist returned to Rome for good, and he reached his highest level of fame. His bizarre, unconventional personality induced him to refuse commissions on the basis of a conviction that artists should be free from conditioning by patrons. In this period, he made his works known through annual exhibitions in the capital and he had his inventions circulated in the form of engravings.