A masterful example of the Renaissance art of Northern Italy, this magnificent oil on panel comes alive with vibrant color, extraordinary composition, and an animated narrative. The rare panel is a stunning example of the mature work of Defendente Ferrari, an artist regarded as the greatest Piedmontese painter of his era. Centered around the legend of Saint Jerome and the Lion, this exquisite work by Ferrari is among his masterpieces, executed with an artistry and attention to detail that suggests it was an important private commission.
In this composition, the Italian master's immaculately-rendered Saint Jerome is clothed in the traditional cardinal's red cape and red flat-top cardinal's hat of his order. The saint is remembered as a scholar, translator, and advocate of monasticism, and is thus more typically portrayed in meditation or engaged in scholarly pursuits. Ferrari, however, chose instead to depict the legend of Saint Jerome and the lion, a story which tells of an injured lion that entered Jerome's monastery. While the other monks fled, Jerome recognized the beast was injured and removed a thorn from its paw. It is this poignant moment that Ferrari so masterfully captures, as Jerome delicately plucks the thorn while the majestic animal sits docilely below. A similar work depicting this legend can be found in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
Ferrari's composition offers an intriguing marriage of styles, bringing together the stunning level of detail seen in the works of the High Renaissance, with the flattened perspective and golden hues popular in northern European late Gothic art. Here, the saint's monumental form fills the foreground of the composition, his red clothing offering a stunning visual contrast to the lavish gold background behind him. The style reveals the influence of his teacher, the famed Giovanni Martino Spanzotti whose celebrated Dal Ponte Polyptych hangs today in the National Gallery in London. Yet, Ferrari's works possess a sophistication and refinement that surpasses the work of his mentor, and his later works, such as the present piece, display an emotional intimacy and narrative style entirely his own.
Active in Piedmont between 1500-35, Defendente Ferrari was born in Chivasso, near Turin. For much of his career, he was considered the most important and prolific artist active in Northern Italy, and he was frequently engaged in both monumental and small-scale commissions for altarpieces, triptychs and singular panels such as the present work. His first major work, a great polyptych of Saints Crispin and Crispinian, dates to 1505 and was composed for the cathedral of Turin. The present work dates to slightly later and embodies the mature style of the Renaissance master.
The art dating to the age of the High Renaissance is among the most desirable in the world. It is also the rarest, and a piece such as this that retains its vibrancy and the luxurious color is truly exceptional. As seen in the extraordinary palette and composition of his Saint Jerome, Ferrari produced some of the most striking works of the age. Today, his paintings grace a collection of museums such as the Galleria Sabauda in Turin and the Galleria Palatina in the Pitti Palace in Florence, as well as a number of cathedrals including the Sacra di San Michele in Piedmont and the Cathedral of Chivasso in Italy.
This important work is referenced in Casalesi del Cinquecento, Turin 1970, by G. Romano on page 22.
Bruno Meissner, Zurich
Canada, Private Collection
M.S. Rau Antiques, New Orleans