“Saint-Jérome”, an unfinished masterpiece by the Italian genius Leonardo da Vinci, is on display from June 10 at the Château du Clos-Lucé in Amboise. The painting is on loan until September 20, 2022 by the Vatican Museums, which owns it.
Claire Riobé – Vatican City
“Saint-Jerome”, one of Leonardo da Vinci’s most enigmatic works left the pontifical collections for France. Since this Friday, June 10, the painting has been exhibited for 100 days at Clos-Lucé, in Amboise, the place where the famous painter died in 1519. The work thus joins a collection of seventeen paintings by the author, already exhibited. in the castle of the Loire Valley.
This exceptional loan from the Vatican Museums comes three years after the exhibition in Saint Peter’s Square of works by Da Vinci, on the occasion of the 500e anniversary of his death, in 2019. The exhibition-event at Clos-Lucé is jointly organized by the director of the Vatican Museums, Barbara Jatta, and the head of the arts department, Guido Cornini.
Through essays and scientific investigations, both have worked to trace the incompleteness of the masterpiece, its singular mode of execution and its turbulent history. “The Saint Jerome in the Desert by Leonardo is certainly an absolute masterpiece”considers Barbara Jatta, “but also a work that exalts the spirituality of a great man and Doctor of the Church”.
An unfinished work
The painting, still in its infancy in some places, is one of the most enigmatic works of the Tuscan architect, sculptor and engineer. Painted around 1480-1490, it provides valuable information on the techniques used by Leonardo Da Vinci when creating his works, explains François Saint-Bris, director of Clos Lucé. “We see the full extent of Da Vinci’s pictorial technique: drawing, brush painting, sketching, pigments, wiping, but also finger painting. There is a fingerprint which is very clearly marked and that too is very moving“. “Saint-Jerome” thus participates in reinforcing the veil of fascination that has enveloped the figure of Leonardo Da Vinci for centuries.
Rediscovered in the 19th century
The sponsor of “Saint-Jerome” like its addressee, remain unknown today. The oldest mention of the painting dates back to the beginning of the 19th century, when it is mentioned, with attribution to Leonardo, in the will of the Swiss painter Angelica Kauffmann. After the latter’s death, all trace of it was again lost, until it was found by chance and purchased by Napoleon’s uncle, Cardinal Joseph Fesch.
According to tradition, the cardinal would have found the work divided into two parts: the lower one in the workshop of a Roman second-hand dealer and the upper one, where the saint’s head appears, at his shoemaker’s. Beyond the fictional narrative, the panel was actually cut into five pieces. When the Cardinal died, it was auctioned off and sold several times. It was identified, then purchased by Pope Pius IX in 1956, for the Vatican Pinacoteca.