Seeing Leonardo De Vinci’s St. Jerome was striking. It was different than all the other paintings that surrounded it in the gallery. His face was contorted, old, and very real. There was a fierce sense of contemplation and faith portrayed between the lines of his face.
St. Jerome was an odd man. He was tormented by sex and punished himself by not washing for days. He forced himself to study Hebrew and Greek when the pleasures of the world seemed tempting. Yet he was good friends with many women and helped a few of them found monastic houses in Jerusalem. His biggest claim to fame was his translation of the Vulgate which in retrospect perhaps was not the most accurate of attempts.
The painting itself was incomplete. St. Jerome’s face and body were completed but his outstretched arms were simple sketches; the lion at his feet and the background were sketches too. Therefore as I looked into the picture, my attention was brought immediately to St. Jerome’s face. The lines and the shadows changing as I walked past. What is it about this painting that captured my attention? Raphael, Michelangelo, Caravaggio are monstrous artistic neighbors. Yet, this little odd twisted man drew me into a world of question and doubt. St. Jerome did not experience Christianity as the glorious play by play of the Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel or Raphael’s Ascension; nor did St. Jerome experience Christianity as the passionate darkness of Caravaggio’s paintings. I don’t quite know what drew me into and rooted my feet in front of the work for several minutes. Perhaps it was simply the feeling of standing in front of the genius of one of my favorite people in history… I thank Leonardo de Vinci for such a gift.