Saturday, July 13, 2019

NEVER FINISHED, YET PERFECT: Leonardo’s Saint Jerome in the Desert

Saint Jerome in the Desert
  Leonardo Da Vinci (c. 1480)
Tempera and Oil on Walnut Panel 
Musei Vaticani 

Submitted for your wonder and fascination is Leonardo’s never finished, iconic and brilliantly conceived painting of St Jerome in the Desert.

So many of Leonardo’s ideas - in engineering, science, medicine and art- never were completed. He could never say “done,” even for La Gioconda (Mona Lisa), and yet there is always a perfection of form and power of meaning even in his drafts and uncompleted works. 

St Jerome in the Desert, one of only seven Leonardo’s 20 or so extant works that are indisputably only in His hand, will be coming to the Met from the Vatican later this year, as a one-painting show to honor the 500th anniversary of the death of the Master.

The painting shows St. Jerome at prayer at the end of his life, a hermit in the wilderness, alone save for his lion companion—a common Renaissance subject. And yet it stands alone in its deeply moving, intimate depiction of the penitent saint in a moment of private reverie. As Jerome stares up at his crucifix, his spiritual struggle is plain to see, even though many passages of work show little more than the ground preparation on the wood panel, with hastily sketched outlines.
And we literally have Leonardo’s hand in this masterpiece- his fingerprints can be found in the upper left of the painting it as he rubbed and smoothed his oils and tempera on the walnut.

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