PSEUDO PIER FRANCESCO FIORENTINO | Saint Jerome and a Franciscan [San Gerolamo e un francescano]


Saint Jerome and a Franciscan [San Gerolamo e un francescano] c.1455-60
tempera on wood panel
47.0 (h) x 30.0 (w) cm Accademia Carrara, Bergamo
Bequest of Giovanni Morelli 1891

Saint Jerome and a Franciscan is very closely related to a painting by Filippo Lippi, Saint Jerome as a penitent and a Carmelite monk c.1436–1438.[1] Lippi’s work, which is one of the earliest images of the penitent saint, brings together two scenes of different chronology. In the mid section the tonsured Jerome is shown as a hermit, holding a wooden crucifix and a stone to strike his breast as he contemplates a skull. A cardinal’s hat beneath the nearby shelter represents his stature in the Church. Further down, with an open hand held towards a lion, is the monk who took a thorn from the beast’s paw—a variation of the legend where Jerome performs this act.[2] Lippi’s monk is dressed in the brown habit of the Carmelite Order. The harsh landscape gives external form to the life of the hermit and the notion of self-exile. Partially hidden, almost mouth-to-mouth with the lion, a second maneless feline looks up at Jerome. As Jeffrey Ruda observes in discussing the Lippi panel, several other Renaissance paintings of Saint Jerome include more than one lion, specifically a lioness. Just as the lion is understood as a symbol of Christ, Mary was sometimes called the ‘lion’s mother’ in keeping with the ancient notion that the lioness gives birth only once.[3]

The Bergamo panel, possibly part of a diptych, follows the same structure as the Lippi painting, but with several differences: rays of light appear from above, the saint’s halo is more elaborate, roses and lilies are introduced. The church in the upper left, screened by dark trees, repeats the rosy pink colour of the flowers. While precise replication of paintings was not typical at this time, when it did take place, as Megan Holmes points out, the cult image was expected to reproduce the spiritual power of the original.[4] When a patron specified a work ‘like’ another, the contract tended to refer to material considerations such as the type of framing or amount of gold rather than pictorial content.[5] In many cases there was substantial variation between the prototype and the new version. Like the paintings linked to the workshop of the Lippi and Pesellino imitator—the entity to which this work is often attributed, along with others after compositions by Lippi and Francesco Pesellino[6]—this panel was probably produced using a stock of cartoons, thus had the endorsement of the original artist. Variant copies, after all, reflected value onto the originals, particularly when those works were owned by prominent patrons.

Although Lippi’s painting is thought to be described in a 1492 inventory of the Medici collection, very little is known about the production of this workshop version. The cartoons may have passed from one workshop to another and the copies produced over an extended period: Saint Jerome and a Franciscan is elsewhere dated c.1460–1480. The colours of the Bergamo panel are more dramatic and the landscape more fanciful, but the connections between the two heavy-lidded figures seem less clearly articulated. The monk, who now wears the grey habit of the Franciscans, suggests the work was produced for a patron connected to a Franciscan monastery. Perhaps the distant church was intended to evoke the Basilica of San Francesco at Assisi.

Lucina Ward

[1] Fra Filippo Lippi (1406?–1469). His panel, also known as Saint Jerome in penitence or Saint Jerome in the wilderness, 46.8 x 30.0 cm, Staatliches Lindenau-Museum, Altenburg.

[2] According to biographies, the thorn was removed by a monk on Jerome’s orders, rather than by the saint himself. Alternatively this figure is also identified as Jerome at an earlier moment in the story.

[3] Jeffrey Ruda, Fra Filippo Lippi: Life and work with a complete catalogue, London: Phaidon and New York: Abrams, 1993, cat. 15, pp. 383–84.

[4] Megan Holmes, ‘Copying practices and marketing strategies in a late fifteenth-century painter’s workshop’, in Stephen J. Campbell and Stephen J. Milner (eds), Artistic exchange and cultural translation in the Italian Renaissance city, Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004, pp. 38–74 (pp. 46–47).

[5] Holmes, pp. 47–48.

[6] Francesco Pesellino (c.1422–1457).