Thursday, June 19, 2008

More Jerome

I took this lousy picture of the Vatican's only painting by Leonardo da Vinci on Wednesday when we visited the Vatican Museums. The Vatican Museums are an extensive complex including ancient Roman art, Etruscan art, Egyptian art, Mesopotamian art, some of the best paintings of the Italian Renaissance, and the Sistine Chapel. At least, those are the parts of the museum that I saw.

Not surprisingly, much of the art on display is religious. The vast collections include art on a number of Christina topics, St. Jerome the Penitent among them. The da Vinci painting above was never fully completed. It was not recognized as a work of art by the great artist until the nineteenth century and was acquired by the Vatican in mid-century. Jerome is portrayed by da Vinci in a typical pose in his study. He is staring at a crucifix while writing. Unlike many of the other paintings I have seen of St. Jerome, including Caravaggio's, there is a lion in the image. Apparently, there is a medieval story about St. Jerome removing a thorn from a lion's foot, hence the lounging beast. This is very different from the depictions of lions many saints martyred in the Coliseum enjoy in paints of them.

Another meme in St. Jerome paintings is the presence of the Trumpet of Doom. I first saw this figure when I visited Doria-Pomphilj Gallery, a gallery located in the same building as our classrooms. The Gallery has a painting by Jusepe de Ribera in which St. Jerome is startled by the trumpet. This painting is by Pier Francesco Mola and hangs in the Vatican Museums not far from da Vinci's St. Jerome. You can see the trumpet in the upper left and St. Jerome appears to be turning his right ear toward it.

The Trumpet of Doom is the instrument that is supposed to sound on the day of judgment. Since St. Jerome was known for his penance as well as his intellectual contributions to the Catholic Church, it makes sense that he would be attuned to hearing the trumpet's announcements. Confession is motivated by the need to be on the right side when the final day of judgment comes around, so St. Jerome's special attention to the trumpet is a reflection of his penatant bent. It is interesting to think that salvation that many seek when they enter the confessional at St. Maria Liberatrice and in other churches is prophesied to begin with a sound on this instrument. Although it is termed "Doom," for many the trumpet is the herald of ultimate salvation.

One more place where I found St. Jerome was in one of the giant frescoes in the Raphael Rooms in the Vatican. Raphael depicted St. Jerome in a blue robe in the center of the painting pointing toward the heavens and apparently lecturing the other important church figures around him.

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