Born and educated in Naples, Rosa lived for more than eight years in Florence before settling in Rome in 1649. He was impressed by both the naturalism of Ribera and the classicism of Poussin, but, being extremely independent of spirit and confident of his own genius, he allied himself with no one. Although his fame rested mostly on his work as a landscapist, Rosa preferred to be regarded as a history painter. He also chose subjects of an esoteric and philosophic nature, which he often introduced into his landscapes. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Rosa’s works were immensely popular and influential, especially among landscape painters, leading Sir Joshua Reynolds to attribute to them “the power of inspiring sentiments of grandeur and sublimity.”
According to ancient sources, the philosopher Pythagoras (sixth century B.C.) convinced his followers that he had descended to Hades and seen the tortured souls of poets (among them Homer and Hesiod) tormented for betraying the secrets of the gods. Shortly after 1662, when Rosa exhibited this painting with its pendant (now in Berlin), the pair was bought by Antonio Ruffo of Messina, who, several years before, had purchased Rembrandt’s Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).
Purchased by Don Antonio Ruffo, principe della Scaletta [1610-78], Messina, Sicily, with its pendant, Pythagoras and the Fishermen, 1664;
by descent, with the pendant, to his son, Don Placido Ruffo, principe della Scaletta [d. 1710], Messina, Sicily;
by descent, with its pendant, to Don Antonio Ruffo II, principe della Scaletta [d. 1739], Messina, Sicily;
by descent, with its pendant, to Don Calogero Ruffo, principe della Scaletta [d. 1743], Messina, Sicily;
by descent, with its pendant, to Don Giovanni Ruffo e la Rocca [d. 1755], Messina, Sicily, to after 1750.
Acquired, with its pendant, by (Gavin Hamilton, Rome and London);
(purchased, with its pendant, by Noël Joseph Desenfans, London, before 1791);
(purchased, with its pendant, by Thomas Moore Slade, London, about 1791-93).
(Michael Bryan, London, by 1798);
(his sale, Coxe, Burlington & Co., London, 18 May 1798, no. 47, sold for £446.5, possibly bought in).
Sir Simon Haughton Clarke, 9th baronet Clarke, Oakhill, Hertfordshire, or George Hibbert [1757-1837], London;
(their sale, Christie’s, London, 15 May 1802, no. 69);
purchased for £483 by Charles Hanbury-Tracy, later 1st baron Sudeley [1777-1858], Toddington Manor, Gloucestershire, England;
by descent to his son, Thomas Charles Hanbury-Tracy, 2nd baron Sudeley [1801-63], Toddington Manor, Gloucestershire, England;
by descent to his son, Sudeley Charles George Leigh Hanbury-Tracy, 3rd baron Sudeley [1837-77], Toddington Manor, Gloucestershire, England;
by descent to his brother, Charles Douglas Richard Hanbury-Tracy, 4th baron Sudeley [1840-1922], Toddington Manor, Gloucestershire, England, probably until about 1893-95.
(Possibly Durlacher Brothers, London, by 1926).
Roche family, United States;
George Roche, Jr., Louisville, Kentucky;
(Newhouse Galleries, Inc., New York, by 1970);
purchased by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 1970.