Ribera belongs to the Baroque school of painting. He was the first great master of the Spanish school of the 17th century, and one of the most important of his era. Born in Játiva, at a very young age he moved to Italy. There he painted a series entitled The Senses, of which two paintings survive, along with copies of another three.
In 1616 he moved to Naples, where he became a protégé of the Spanish viceroy, the Duke of Osuna, for whom he painted several works which are preserved in the collegiate church of Osuna, Saint Sebastian, The Calvary. Ribera married Catalina de Azzolino, the daughter of a mediocre painter His painting started out with a Caravaggiesque tenebrist style, but whereas Caravaggio gave a great intensity to his paintings through the use of strong chiaroscuro contrasts and dynamic poses, Ribera used the chiaroscuro technique to give a certain sense of mystery to the work, without diminishing the serenity and balance of the scene. In this initial era he painted religious works along prophetic lines and of extraordinary grandiosity: Saint Jerome, Saint Sebastian Cured by the Pious Women, while mythological themes also play an important role: Drunken Islander. In his images of prophets, apostles, saints, etc., his ascetic vision comes to the fore: Saint Paul the Hermit, Saint Roque, Saint Andrew, Saint James the Elder. In his mature period he gradually freed himself of his early tenebrist style. His palette became lighter and more luminous, and its tones more harmonious: Immaculate Conception. This was his most productive period, his palette increasingly drawing on the richness of the Venetian school, as may be seen in Venus and Adonis, Apollo and Mars and his paintings for the Charterhouse of Saint Martin. Ribera moved away from the complex compositions which typified the Italian Baroque, preferring instead to give his figures an emotional intensity. In 1646 he painted one of his most important altarpieces: The Miracle of Saint Genaro.
Ribera also enjoyed anecdotal and popular themes, such as, in the series The Philosophers, his depictions of beggars and everyday figures: Girl with a Tambourine, The Happy Drinker, the Muscatel Drinker; and bizarre individuals The Bearded Lady. The artist's final paintings display a great richness in their command of composition and colour: Adoration of the Shepherds, Saint Jerome Penitent.