Work Saint Jerome and the Lion
Department of Decorative Arts: Renaissance
Saint Jerome and the Lion
© 1990 RMN / Daniel Arnaudet
This group, cast using the lost-wax method (in which a model is first made of wax, then enclosed in a clay and plaster mold), shows a bishop sitting on a throne removing a thorn from the paw of a little lion, who watches him intently. The scene is an apocryphal episode from the life of one of the Christian Fathers, St Jerome, and is attributed to the Paduan sculptor Bartolomeo Bellano (circa 1437-96), a pupil and successor of Donatello. This is the only known version of the group.
St Jerome (AD 347-420) was one of the four great doctors of the Christian Latin Church. Born in Stridon on the Dalmatian border (near modern Ljubljana) he studied in Rome and was commissioned by Pope St Damasus I to revise the Old Latin Gospels, in reference to reliable Greek translations from the original Hebrew (the Septuagint). On earlier travels in the Middle East, Jerome is also thought to have studied a Hebrew Gospel, purported to be the original Gospel of St Matthew. Jacobus de Voragine's apocryphal thirteenth-century account of the lives of Christ and the Christian saints, the Golden Legend, tells how St Jerome interrupted a learned discussion of the Bible with members of his monastic community to remove a thorn from the foot of an injured lion. Jacobus in fact confused this episode with one from the life the Greek Orthodox saint Gerasimos, a fifth-century hermit in Palestine.
A compact sculptural group
This compact group is composed around a pyramid structure. At the saint's feet can be seen a book, recalling his extensive writings on the Bible, and a cardinal's hat, an allusion to his traditional role as one of the Christian church's Latin Fathers (his highest official ecclesiastical rank was in fact a spell as secretary to Pope St Damasus I). The lion's mane shows it to be a mature animal, albeit represented here as the size of a small dog. Man and beast gaze intently at one another. The modeling of Jerome's simple robes, clearly made from coarse, heavy fabric, reinforces the direct, humane character of the group.
Bartolomeo Bellano: a sculptor of the Paduan school
The group is attributed to Bartolomeo Bellano, a Paduan sculptor who was a pupil and successor of Donatello (the creator of the celebrated bronze high altar in the church of San Antonio in Padua, known as the Santo). The attribution to Bellano is based on stylistic comparisons with reliefs executed for his monument to Pietro Roccabonella (1491-94, in the church of San Francesco in Padua). The reliefs are still in situ, but the monument was completed by Andrea Riccio in 1498, after Bellano's death, and has not survived in its original form. Vasari notes that Bellano created a number of small-scale works in marble and bronze for Pope Paul II. The present group may well be one of these.
Attributed to Bartolomeo BELLANO (Padua, 1437-38 - Padua, 1496-97)
Saint Jerome and the Lion
Late 15th century
H. 25 cm; D. 20 cm; W. 14 cm
Gift of Gustave Dreyfus, 1919 , 1919
Display case 4
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