- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 25, 2003

The story is a familiar one. Saint Jerome (347-420) served as a Latin Church Father and one of the original four Doctors of the Church. Afterward, he lived in the desert and in the town of Bethlehem as a hermit, "dwelling at the Lord's Crib like a domestic animal," in aesthetic contemplation, as Jacobus de Vorgine put it in his "Golden Legend." De Vorgine also wrote that the saint built his tomb "at the mouth of a cave where Our Lord had lain, and was buried there at the age of ninety-eight years and six months."
In his unfinished "Saint Jerome Praying in the Wilderness" (Musei Vaticani, Rome), Leonardo da Vinci painted a penitent Jerome elderly, emaciated and almost without teeth kneeling in what may have been the inside of a cave. The stalactite formation at the upper right surrounds a quickly sketched-in church in the distance.
Leonardo placed the solid, dense form of the kneeling Jerome at dead center. The saint dominates the painting with a sweeping gesture that anticipates the expressiveness of the Apostles in Leonardo's world-famous mural "The Last Supper" (Refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan), begun 1493-94.
Jerome's face is the pictorial expression of the painter's anatomical quest for the seat of the soul and "the meeting place of all the senses." The artist began the unfinished painting on walnut wood panel in Florence virtually a drawing on panel and took it with him during work on his next commission in Milan. The "Jerome" provides extraordinary insights into Leonardo's work process, as he moved from underdrawing to the realization of forms: first with white lead with gesso priming; then egg tempera mixed with lots of oil; then to developing a full-scale drawing, or cartoon; and finally to painting with tempera and oil. Leonardo da Vinci's unfinished "Saint Jerome Praying in the Wilderness"


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