Leonardo da Vinci.
St. Hieronymus c.1480-1482.
Oil on wood
Never too late to join 2003, I finally finished reading The Da Vinci Code. I’ll spare a formal review of the book but suffice to say that I thought it was going to have a little more Da Vinci and a little less code—not that there’s anything wrong with that, as Seinfeld would say.
But if the secret to turning the Bible upside down are contained in any of the Florentine master’s paintings, I’d put his depiction of St. Jerome at the top of the list. This unfinished work sparks a curious interest not just because the artist mysteriously walked away from its completion, but because of the subject matter.
St. Jerome, also known as Hieronymus, was something of a pagan turned monk before he wrote the Latin translation of the Bible 380 years after Christ. As it turned out, his version met with some controversy. There’s also a popular fable claiming St. Jerome befriended a lion by pulling a thorn from its paw.
Taking a closer look, Da Vinci paints the monk almost as a tortured soul, as if his entire life’s work were gnawing at him. One gets the feeling that the lion is there to relieve the man of a psychological thorn and not the other way around. Of course, this is art, and art, just like in The Da Vinci Code, tends to be subjective and can many times exaggerate for a desired effect.
Is there any significance to the lack of finish? Does the stone in the monk’s hand suggest his anger or anguish? I don’t really know from researching it for twenty minutes on the web.
But I know that assessing the intentions of anything created so long ago is a questionable endeavor, and I suspect if Leonardo really was privy to some historically significant information from some secret society, he would have revealed it in a work that didn’t rely so much on what is perceived, but what is known.