Leonardo da Vinci’s Saint Jerome Praying in the Wilderness

A Lecture by Carmen Bambach, Ph.D.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

19 July 2019

The Metropolitan Museum of Art observed the 500-year anniversary of the death of the great Renaissance master, Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), with its exhibition, “Leonardo da Vinci’s Saint Jerome.”  The painting was lent to The Metropolitan Museum with collegial generosity by The Vatican Museums.

Dr. Bambach presented an elucidating and engaging lecture on Leonardo da Vinci and the place of Saint Jerome Praying in the Wilderness in his oeuvre.  Leonardo was a seminal figure in the Renaissance, acclaimed as much as an engineer and scientist as he was a painter.  Famous for his iconic masterpieces such as The Adoration of the Magi, the two versions of The Madonna of the Rocks, and of course Mona Lisa, Leonardo’s fame connected to Saint Jerome Praying in the Wilderness certainly also is a function of the painting’s artistic quality, universally recognized as one of six works unquestionably by the hand of the master.  Yet there are factors that lend the master’s Saint Jerome a certain degree of singularity.  The painting, still unfinished, was worked and re-worked by Leonardo for the last 35-40 years of his life and thus it has come to be appreciated as the epitome of Leonardo’s ongoing research into human anatomy.   In addition, though the subject of Saint Jerome living as a hermit in the wilderness was common in the Renaissance, Leonardo’s Saint Jerome stands alone; the saint is depicted in the throes of intimate, penitential reverie as he gazes upon a crucifix at the moment he is about to commit an act of physical self-abnegation.  Charged as it is with such drama and psychological insight, the painting is a portrait of the saint as much as it is a portrait of Leonardo’s spiritual life during those last decades when the painter carried the work with him wherever he went.

Dr. Carmen Bambach, Curator of Drawings and Prints at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, is curator of the exhibition.  She is the author of the recently published 4-volume work, Leonardo da Vinci Rediscovered, the fruit of 24 years of research and writing.  She stands as the doyenne of Leonardo studies in the world today.

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