Oil on canvas
131 x 98 cm / 51.6 x 38.6 in
Koelliker collection, Milan
G. Papi (ed.), Il genio degli anonimi. Maestri caravaggeschi a Roma e a Napoli, exhibition catalogue, Milan 2005, pp. 105-119;
G. Papi, Postille ai dipinti in mostra a “Il Genio degli anonimi”, L. Spezzaferro (ed.), Caravaggio e l’Europa, Atti del Convegno Internatzionale, 3-4 February 2006;
G. Papi (ed.), La “schola” di Caravaggio. Dipinti dalla Collezione Koelliker, exhibition catalogue, Milan 2006, pp. 42-45 (as Bartolomeo Manfredi);
M. C. Terzaghi in In Pursuit of Caravaggio, exhibition catalogue, Robilant+Voena, Allemandi: Turin 2016, pp. 44-45.
Milan, Palazzo Reale, Il genio degli anonimi. Maestri caravaggeschi a Roma e a Napoli, 15 October 2005 - 6 February 2006, pp. 105-119;
Ariccia, Palazzo Chigi, La “schola” di Caravaggio. Dipinti dalla Collezione Koelliker, 13 October 2006 - 11 February 2007, no. 2;
London, Robilant+Voena, In Pursuit of Caravaggio, 21 November 2016 – 17 February 2017.
One of the earliest and most enthusiastic collectors of Caravaggesque was George Villiers (1592-1628) 1st Duke of Buckingham. He owned at least 5 paintings by Manfredi.
In 2005/6 this painting was displayed in the exhibition Il genio degli anonimi together with other unattributed Caravaggesque pictures.
In the publication for the exhibition, similarities were drawn between the painting and pictures by Baburen and Ribera.
However, during a conference in February 2006 held on the occasion of the exhibition, the painting was compared directly to works by Baburen and Ribera, which were in a concurrent exhibition, Caravaggio e l’Europa, also at the Palazzo Reale. In doing this, it became clear that the painting was not by either artist.
Even though the links with Ribera were clear, particularly in the monumentality of the figure - its vigorous position in the space of the painting, its dynamic pose and almost aggressive presence on the canvas - this single element was not enough to attribute the painting to the Spanish artist.
What became apparent, however, was that the brick red of the mantle drapery, the structured, defined and low creases and the white shirt knotted below, revealed that the painting was an important and surprising addition to the oeuvre of Bartolomeo Manfredi. The wet, agitated style of St. Jerome’s hair further affirmed that the painting was by the Mantuan artist. The face is also treated in a similar manner. It is built up with strong brushstrokes surrounding the eyes and delineating the subtle frown lines. The attribution was presented in the exhibition La “schola” del Caravaggio in 2006. Both such a strong image and the display of such emotional and physical vigour are, in fact, very rare in Manfredi’s oeuvre. He usually uses smaller, even emaciated figures with short limbs, which are drawn with a more static and less vehement hand.
The saint, represented in two-thirds profile, has an unusual monumentality that is reminicent of similar figures (Apostles, Church Fathers, Exegetes of the Holy Scriptures, Saints hermits) by Ribera. The profound influence of Ribera on the painter from Ostiano is also apparent in the abundance of drapery, in the strong and confident brushwork evident in the execution of the hand and in the elongated and vigorous brushstrokes of hair and beard. Manfredi has blended these Ribera-esque elements with his own sensibility, evident in the articulation of the just sweating skin, the fervent gaze of Saint Jerome and the clearly defined white linen.
The Saint Jerome has significant compositional similarities with a painting of the same subject by Manfredi of a similar date o 1617-1618 (Papi 2016). If we put the two works side by side, they are clearly two different moments in a sequence. One is shown after the prayer and in act of penance – as symbolized by the stone held in his right hand and employed to beat his chest. The other, with his book lowered on the lectern and preparing to write on a sheet. The Saint looks the same. Even the garment is identical: a brick-red mantle leaving naked chest and arms and a glimpse of a white cloth tied around the hip: a detail which is the most strikingly similar, as they correspond nearly identically, even in the very similar pictorial treatment.
There is another non-autograph version of this painting of good quality, in the collection of the Palazzo del Quirinale in Rome, which was formerly in the Collegio Romano (from 1773, when the goods of the Compagnia di Gesù were confiscated). This version (measuring 140 x 115 cm) has a substantial bibliography. The painting was attributed from the eighteenth century onwards as a work by Caravaggio and Ribera. Giuliano Briganti in 1962 recalled the nineteenth-century guides’ attribution of the painting to Ribera, but he did not express an opinion instead referring to the Saint Jerome simply as “Caravaggesque”.