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Work St Jerome on his Knees before a Crucifix

Department of Prints and Drawings: 17th century

Saint Jérôme à genoux devant un crucifix

Musée du Louvre, dist. RMN-Grand Palais - Photo S. Nagy

Prints and Drawings
17th century

Author(s):
Caviglia-Brunel Susanna

This drawing is one of the masterpieces of Bernini's graphic oeuvre. Made in Paris in 1665, it is one of the rare items remaining from the Italian master's stay in the French capital at Louis XIV's invitation. As is shown by the old inscription, Bernini gave it to Colbert, the king's superintendent of buildings. St. Jerome is an essential work for understanding Bernini's graphic style and the birth of baroque painting in Rome.

Bernini's stay in Paris

Bernini went to Paris in 1665 at Louis XIV's invitation to work on plans for the façade of the Louvre. However, the artist left the city without completing his project. Although he sent two successive drawings to Colbert after his return to Rome, the façade was built according to plans by Le Vau, Perrault, and Lebrun between 1667 and 1670. The St Jerome in the Louvre dates from this stay. It was given to Colbert by the artist, as demonstrated by the annotation and the Journal du voyage du cavalier Bernin en France by J. de Chantelou. The latter recounts how, when he visited the artist on October 4, "Monsieur Colbert has left . . . I learned that he had given the St. Jerome that he had made in the preceding days to Monsieur Colbert before I arrived."

The St. Jerome theme

The subject of St. Jerome was often used by seventeenth-century Italian masters. Born in Dalmatia or in Venice, the saint (circa 340-420) was one of the great doctors of the Latin Church. After his baptism in Rome, he left for the Holy Land and withdrew to the Syrian desert for three years to repent. On his return to Rome, Pope Damasus entrusted him with the task of translating the Bible into Latin (Vulgate); his work was recognized as the official version of the Church by the Council of Trent. Pictures of the saint generally show him translating the Bible inspired by the Holy Ghost, seated at his writing table or repenting in the desert. In the drawing at the Louvre, Bernini chose to illustrate the latter scene, which gives scope for the expression of deep pathos. On his knees on a rock, the saint in adoration before a crucifix, fills the scene entirely. In the background on the right can be seen the lion whose friendship was won by Jerome after he had removed a thorn from its paw.

A mystic composition

Bernini was then sixty-seven years old and the choice of the devotion theme permitting the portrayal of intense mysticism reveals his growing piety. The contrasted use of wash on the emaciated bodies of the saint and lion, together with the broad, emphatic gesture of the former, perfectly express the intensely religious feeling described at length by F. Basan in his catalogue of the Mariette sale (1775, Lot 19): "A sentiment of love and faith can never be better rendered than by the expression seen in this drawing, whose thinking is sublime." R. E. Spear (1966, p. 107) stressed the importance of this type of composition in the development of baroque painting in Rome, and particularly for the work of the Genoan Giovanni Battista Gaulli, known as "Il Baciccio," who was in contact with Bernini after 1650. The Palazzo Chigi in Ariccia possesses a variant of this drawing.

Bibliography

Spear Richard E. , "Baciccio's Pendant Paintings of Venus and Adonis", in Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin - Oberlin College, printemps 1966, p. 107

Technical description

  • Gian Lorenzo BERNINI (Naples, 1598-Rome, 1680)

    St Jerome on his Knees before a Crucifix

    1665

  • Black chalk, pen and brown ink and brown wash on beige paper.

    H. 39.3 cm; L. 29.5 cm

  • Purchased at the Mariette sale in 1775 by Lempereur for the king's cabinet of drawings and paintings.

    INV9575

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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Additional information about the work

Annotation at bottom right in pen and brown ink: "Par M.r le Cavalier Bernin et donné par/Luy à Monsieur Colbert le 19 octobre 1665."