Defendente Ferrari, also called De Ferrari, was born in the Italian town of Chivasso, near Turin circa 1480/1485. Working within the School of Piedmont, he is known to have completed both monumental and small-scale commissions including altarpieces, triptychs, and singular panels (like St. Jerome illustrated here). The oeuvre of Ferrari is particularly interesting due to the artist’s ability to seamlessly mix cultural and artistic tastes in his work. For example, perhaps due to his location in Northern Italy, Ferrari’s compositions are heavily influenced by Flemish artists, most notably Rogier van der Weyden. The artist also tended to blend High Renaissance aesthetics with those of northern European Late Gothic art. This is most often visible in Ferrari’s use of luxurious gold leaf in combination with the exquisite detail and explosive colors only achievable in oil paint.
Most Medieval and Renaissance images rely on The Golden Legend, a 13th century text by Jacobus de Voragine, for descriptions of saints and their iconography. As recounted in The Golden Legend, Jerome was born in Dalmatia and moved to Rome in his teenage years. While in Rome, he became an exceptional scholar with a gift for languages. As a young man, Jerome developed a deadly fever and experienced his first vision—the judgement of God. During the vision, he was admonished by angels and harshly scolded for his enthusiasm for secular texts. He managed to escape death only by promising to devote himself to the study of the Holy Scripture from hence forth.
At the age of 29, Jerome became an ordained cardinal priest of the church of Rome and a valued adviser to the Pope. Not long after, he traveled to the Middle East where he spent four years in the desert praying and fasting in order curb his temptations and to achieve a hallowed lifestyle. Jerome subsequently moved to Bethlehem, founded several monasteries there, and completed his translation of the Bible into Latin—one of the feats for which he is best known. On a certain day in Bethlehem, a lion entered the monastery and interrupted a biblical lesson. Every monk fled in fear, except for Jerome who recognized that the animal was injured. Inspecting the lion, he found and removed a thorn from the lion’s paw. From that day forward, the lion lived at the monastery doing chores and guarding the monastic donkey. So indebted was the lion to Jerome that today, the lion serves as St. Jerome’s primary attribute.
The beautiful panel St. Jerome by Defendente Ferrari shows the saint clothed in the traditional robes and flat-top hat of a cardinal. The saint’s massive form fills the foreground, and the vibrant red of his garb creates a stunning contrast with the panel's gold, geometric background. Although St. Jerome is most often depicted at a desk fully engaged in scholarly activity, here, Ferrari has chosen to depict the saint in the act of removing a thorn from the docile lion’s paw.
Lavish, vibrant, and in excellent condition (especially considering that the painting is over 500 years old), the panel St. Jerome by Defendente Ferrari is undoubtedly one of the most desirable High Renaissance works available in today’s market.