Saturday, July 04, 2009

Rosina Ferrara- Belle of Capri (1861-1934)

The following is a biography of Rosina Ferrara I wrote back in 2001. The bio chronicles her exciting and extraordinary life in Capri from 1861 to her death in New York in 1934.

La Bella Rosina Ferrara

Miss Rosina Ferrara was born in Anacapri, on the island of Capri in 1861. She was the daughter of Bartolomeo Ferrara. Her mother was the descendant of the 16th Century pirate, Barbarossa Her parents were poor, yet have gaiety in their lives. Rosina had a sister who was as beautiful as she, yet was doomed to live an obscure life.


Capri is a very beautiful island located near the city of Naples and it's not very far from Pompeii, a city buried in vocano ash two milleniums ago. Artists, historians, musicians, and tourists long revered the island's natural beauty, its culture and its people. The women, in particular, were very beautiful. In fact, they were immortalized by artists and tourist. Alphonse de Lamartine's novel, Graziella, tells us of an upper class Frenchman who fell in love with a Neapolitan fisher girl who eventually abandoned her. Edith Wharton's "The Age of Innocence," mentioned Naples or Capri at least five times and its allusions to Neapolitan music such as Ellen Olenska playing Neapolitan love songs on the guitar. The name, Capri, came from a Greek word, Kapos, meaning wild boar. Many people today still think Capri came from a Latin word meaning goat. The island didn't have a lot of goats, but did have a lot of wild boars that once roamed the island in ancient times. The Phoenicians and the Greeks first settle on the island, then the Romans came later between 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C. The Roman rulers and the patricians built pleasure palaces on the island, a practice that was later imitated by Aragonese and Bourbon rulers who ruled Naples from the Middle Ages onward. Other peoples came to Capri: Moors, Arabs, Jews, Gypsies, Normans, and Spaniards. Every one of them left their imprints on the island and its populace. Anacapri is a small town located on the top of the green plateau. It was once a rival to Capri below, but since the building of the roads connecting them in 1874, the two towns learned to reconciled their differences. Anacapri still have a rustic air, with its many olive trees and vineyardss surrounding the area, and its architecture is very Moorish with cubic, flat-roofed houses.

Artists' Residence and their Models

During the 1870's, Rosina was the subject for various artists who visited the Island of Capri. English artist Frank Hyde, first used Rosina as a model for his Capri paintings. Rosina was a very handsome girl with frizzled hair and nut-brown complexion of an Arab. He painted her in various poses in various surroundings. She was a very sweet and compliant model. He was captivated by the breathtaking surroundings and the unusual beauty of its predominantly dark skinned inhabitants of the island. he set up a studio in the abandoned monastery of Santa Teresa. He worked there for many years. It would be a few years until John Singer Sargent came to the island and swept his main model away.John Singer Sargent was in search of a new subject to paint.

John Singer Sargent's Favorite Model and Muse

Before his arrival to the island, Sargent was acclaimed for his famous 1877 painting, the Oyster Gatherers of Cancale. He longed to visit faraway places such as Japan and the Near East, but his Parisian career took off so quickly that he couldn't make the Japan trip the following year, so he visited Naples and Capri. According to Stanley Olson's 1986 book on Sargent:

"He arrived in Naples, Italy around the end of July 1878. Sargent was said that he hated the oppresive heat. All his life, Sargent preferred temperate weather to extremes, whether it is hot or cold. He wrote to Ben Castillo on August 10, 1878,' Of course it was very hot and one generally feels used up...I could not sleep at night... I am frightfully bitten from head to foot.' A week after he wrote a letter to del Castillo, he stayed at a very uncomfortable hotel. He didn't know anyone on the island whom he would be comfortable with and the heat had took a toll on him until he met Mr. Frank Hyde. Mr. Hyde offered him a place in the studio in the abandoned old monastery of Santa Teresa."

It was there, Hyde introduced Sargent to the magnificent model named Rosina. John was captivated, or some might say, seduced by her. She was only seventeen years old, slim, wonderfully made, and an altogether perfect model, sporting a mass of jet coulored hair. Her mellow brown skin set off lugurbriously erotic features, darkly suggestive and Arabic. Miss Rosina reminds me of Chilli of TLC. Chilli is a very magnificent beauty in her own right. She's one of the three singers of the popular girl group, TLC. She have features that resemble Rosina's: Curly jet black hair, nut brown complexion, and vaguely Arabic features. Like Rosina, she came from a poor, southern background, was pursued by famous men(Mr. Hyde, Mr. Barse for Rosina; D. Austin, and Usher, for Rozanda), and both have a beautiful, yet less famous sister. Her real name is Rozanda Ocelean Thomas. Both names, Rosina and Rozanda, came from a Latin word, Rosa, meaning Rose.

Almost immediately after his arrival on the island, Sargent begin painting his newly created muse Rosina by placing her among the olive branches of an olive tree at an Anacapri olive grove. She was leaning against the tree with unconscious grace and a laid back attitude common among the inhabitants. The surface of the painting is brushy, filled with flickering shifts of tone and sudden accents of color. It was a method started by his teacher, Carolus-Duran, but Sargent refined the technique. He painted this picture three times, with one of them submitted to the Academy for the public to view. Many of them weren't impressed with the picture, but one cartoonist made fun of it. To him, it hinted sensual pagan Greco-Roman mythology. So, he drew a caricature mocking both Sargent and Rosina by having her entwined with snakes instead of olive branches. The caricature was called "Mademoiselle Laocoon".

American critics such as the commentator from the now-defunct New York Daily Graphic, made comments about Sargent's "A Capriote":

"Meditteranean idyll... delightful coolness, exquisite delicacy and bright effect of light ... mark its author as an artist of such freshness and originality..."

John's picture was one of his few works out of thousands that directly dealt with the delicate balance between man and nature, barbarism and civilization. Sargent then started to paint a very academic profile of his exotic model/muse. He finely drew her beautiful head in profile, its contours delicately profiled and modelled, and the pallette is controlled and muted. He set her profile against the gilded background of his painting. It was a very raw and austere image despite the purity of its execution. It's in the picture that she resembled Chilli of TLC(Rozanda Ocelean Thomas). She also resembled the Egyptian girl John painted thirteen years later. Chilli, the Egyptian girl, and Rosina have either partial or full Arabic ancestry or have purported ties to Arabia. This is how I connect the similarities of the girls. They are mysterious and exotic to all who behold them as exotic roses. This picture was shown at an art exhibition sponsored by the Society of American Artists as the Capri Peasant- A Study. It was described by Edward Strahan "as modelled like a head on a Syracuse coin- the type like the last of the Greek daughters, imprisioned in an island and preserved to fade out among strangers: it is a small thing, but a masterpiece of care and insight."

She was on the cover of the May 14, 1883 issue of the defunct magazine, Art Amateur and the article regarding her was on page 117. The picture remained in Sargent's collection. His neighbor in Chelsea remembered it as "Holbeinesque."A few weeks later, Sargent held a party with a few friends at a hotel. He asked Rosina to dance the tarantella on the rooftop of the Marina Hotel, where the artists' party was held. Evan Charteris described the occasion "When he imported a breath of the Parisian Latin Quarter, entertaining the artists on the island and organising a fe^te in which the tarantella was danced on the flat roof of his hotel, to an orchestra of tambourines and guitars." Before sundown, Rosina danced the tarantella. She wore the same dress she wore in the picture, A Capriote, where she was entwined in olive branches. A darker skinned companion was playing the tambourine while Rosina danced.

The Tarantella- Dance of Southern Italy

The tarantella dance is a popular and very vivacious folk dance of Southern Italy. It is built in 6/8 "abbastanza mosso tempo" and is properly enacted by a couple of dancers who play cartanets or tambourines while dancing. It represents an emblem of Southern Italian color and the traditional vitality. It has a rapid, whirling steps that combines energy with grace and tells a love story in pantomime. The very name, tarantella, derives from the name of an insect, the tarantula. In fact, a person who is bitten by the insect begins jumping to relive the pain. This is the first step of the tarantella dance. Other people think that the dance came out of courtship rituals. The steps of the dancer seems to express his love for the girl who is dancing with him. From the first impression of Rosina dancing the tarantella have left a very deep imprint on Sargent, who travelled to Spain a few months later. He also liked the flamenco dance, which is also a rapid body movement dance, except that was not played with the tambourine.

Sargent's Other Paintings of Rosina

His love for the dance, music, and the culture of the Meditteranean peoples culminated in his later painting masterpiece, El Jaleo. A related picture of Capri differs from the original. for it doesn't have the dome and the arched doorway. A more loosely related picture painted by Sargent in which Rosina stands by herself on the rooftop, which hangs at the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven CT.

There's another painting of Rosina carrying a garland of garlic. She's shown with disheveled hair as the beauty turns her smiling face toward Mr. Sargent and, by extention, the viewer of the painting. A very similar painting in which she strings up a bunch of onions while a young girl sat pensively, holding an onion. Rosina was either at home or at a barn when he painted her and her companion(could she be her sister?). Both pictures were displayed along with the familiar paintings of her at an exhibit at Adelson Gallery in NYC in December 2003. That was the first time the public got to see the two never before seen paintings of Rosina. They were owned by private individuals who were generous enough to loan the paintings for display in that year. I want to thank the owners for letting the public view those paintings.

Sargent also painted, "The Staircase In Capri." That was the starkest painting he had done(except La Fumee D'Ambegris).

Other Artists' Paintings of Rosina Ferrara

Numerous American, French, and British artists, before and after, had Rosina as their model for their numerous paintings and sketches. In 1881, American artist, Charles Sprague Pearce drew a picture sketch of her for the Salon of 1882 exhibition. In fact, when Charles Pearce showed the cabinet picture for the Salon in 1882, Mr. Pearce described her as "the tawney skinned, panther eyed, elf-like Rosina, wildest and lithest of all the savage creatures on the savage isle of Capri

19th Century Fascination with Capri

Naples and Capri have long been the subject in which writers, artists, and tourists soak up local color and first impressions. One such impression were centered around the beautiful women, fisher girls in particular.The Neapolitan and Capri fisher girls are almost always working class. They long been in the French imagination since the 19th Century, more to the point, 1849 when Alphonse de Lamartine made his once famous, now forgotten romantic novel, Graziella, about a sophisticated Frenchman who fell in love with the fisher girl, Graziella, who then, after a brief romance and courtship, abandoned her and returned to his native France, presumably to marry a girl of his background back home.This romance, although bittersweet and heartbreaking, reflected the life of the author who wrote the novel: He once fell in love with a working class Neapolitan girl, whom he had later left her when he returned to France. It also reflect the fate of many Capri and Neapolitan girl, but particularly reflected the unhappy fate of Rosina.Some visitors and artists want more than just being curious about the girls. They want to romance and even exploit them. Even John Singer Sargent ha taken advantage of Rosina by not paying her money. Instead, he carved a statue of her as a payment for posing for him.(Thanks again, George).

The priests of the island worried for a long time about the girls being taken advantaged of by outsiders. English artist, Adrian Stokes recalled that "It used to be easy for artists to find models, but now the grown up girls are rather shy of strangers, and the priest think it is dangerous for them to pose. For all of that, there are some regular models to be had. Rosina is considered the first on the island and certainly is a remarkably handsome young woman. She sits perfectly as a model of London or Paris."

Rosina's Personal Life and Marriage

In 1883, Rosina gave birth to a daughter, Maria Carlotta(thanks, George). The father of Rosina's child is still unknown to this day, but there were rumors that Maria Carlotta was a daughter of a prominant member of Royalty who may or may have vacationed in the Neapolitan metro area. Maria Primavera was married to Pompius Michael Bernado. Maria Primavera was also her sister's daughter whom she later adopted. (Thanks again, George!) For a while, Rosina became a mistress to a Belgian painter, Alfred Stevens(1823-1906).

In 1891, Rosina married George Randolph Barse, a wealthy American painter from Detroit, in Rome. She met him at a house of another American expatriate, Mr. Charles C. Coleman, whom she was a housekeeper. The Barses settled in Westchester County N.Y., along with her daughter from a previous relationship and their adopted daughter, Maria Primavera, whom was the model for Mr. Barse's "America." They lived a very happy life. Rosina was the inspiration behind several of her husband's paintings. Mr. Barse was a self educated man and had a genial personality. Rosina died while visiting her daughter and son-in-law in New York City in 1934. Distraught over his lovely wife's death, Mr. Barse commited suicide in his garage at his house in Westchester County, N.Y. in 1938.

Her Legacy

Rosina has left us plenty of paintings of her to enjoy in perpetuality. Several years ago, Rosina has been the subject of interest at the Adelson's Gallery exhibit of paintings of female muses of John Singer Sargent. She was featured in the book of the same name of the above exhibit. There are at least two never-before seen paintings of her. I recommend getting the book to anyone interested.Let's give our props to Rosina and all the Capri and Neapolitan girls of the past two centuries! Their stories deserved to be written and be available to the public.

La Reyna(Stephanie B.)


Carey Ann said...


I named my jewelry business after my Rosina Grandmother. Thank you for your post, I have to lot to read.

Carey Ann
Bella Rosina Jewelry

Bella Rosina Jewelry said...


I named my jewelry business after my Rosina Grandmother!

Thank you for the amazing information. I have also heard about the book, "La Belle Rosina," by Roberto Gervaso.

Carey Ann
Bella Rosina Jewelry

Anonymous said...

Il semble que vous soyez un expert dans ce domaine, vos remarques sont tres interessantes, merci.

- Daniel

Anonymous said...

cute! thank you.

you can also read it in קלאב הוטל טבריה מלון לגונה אילת מלון דן כרמל