Rosina Ferrara (1861–1934) was an Italian girl from the island of Capri, who became the favorite muse of American expatriate artist John Singer Sargent.
She was born in Anacapri, Capri, in 1861. Visitors to her native island, some of whom were famous artists, were captivated by her exotic beauty. She posed for a variety of 19th-century artists, including Frank Hyde, Charles Sprague Pearce, and George Randolph Barse (whom she later married), and is immortalized in paintings and sketches by them and other artists, which now hang in museums, art galleries, and private collections.
Ferrara was featured in the 2003 art exhibit "Sargent's Women" at New York City's Adelson Galleries, as well as in the eponymous book published that year.
Ferrara was described by various artists as an "Arab/Greek type," the type seen in classical art, such as that of Ancient Greece. Greek colonists settled in Capri in ancient times and left their mark in their descendants.
In the 19th century, artists and writers from all over Europe and America traveled to Capri to see the beauty of the island and of its inhabitants; Caprese and Neapolitan-area women are renowned for their beauty. Their exotic looks fascinated writers such as Alphonse de Lamartine, whose novel Graziella was based upon his experience there. According to one person's account, Sargent went to Capri in search of subject painting:
The Island of Capri was a logical place to look. Capri was a place of imagination, beautiful women and interesting architecture. Artists had been drawn to there for years.
Ferrara was first discovered by French artist Edward Vaux, and became his model. Then came British artist Frank Hyde, who while visiting Capri in search of inspiration, was intrigued by her exotic beauty. He painted a classical picture of Capri life which depicts her reclining sensually on a couch, clad in a seductive classical toga while another young girl performs on a flute. The painting is called Rosina.
John Singer Sargent came to the island in 1878. He sought fresh ideas and new faces to strike his fancy. Taken by the beauty of its inhabitants, he was especially smitten by the handsome 17-year-old Rosina—so smitten that he painted her at least twelve times during his year's stay on the island town of Anacapri. She was featured in Dans Les Olivier, Head of an Anacapri Girl, View of Capri, Rosina, among the many paintings Sargent painted while he was living in Capri in 1878. When Charles Sprague Pearce showed his cabinet picture of Rosina 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." The Neapolitan and Capri fisher girls, almost always working class, had long been in the French imagination during the 19th century, especially since 1849 when Alphonse de Lamartine wrote his then famous, now forgotten romantic novel Graziella. The book featured a sophisticated Frenchman who fell in love with the fisher girl Graziella. After a brief romance and courtship, he 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: de Lamartine once fell in love with a working class Neapolitan girl, whom he left when he returned to France. It also reflected the fate of many poor or working class Capri and Neapolitan girls. One man wrote this concerning Rosina:
Of all the Capri women, Rosina Ferrara (1862-1938), was the most beautiful. In 1886, Adrian Stokes (an English artist) recalled "It used to be easy for artists to find models, but now the grown-up girls are rather shy of strangers, and the priests 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.