The Vatican has one of the greatest art collections in the world, in particular Renaissance and Baroque art. So it is surprising that there is only one piece of work by Leonardo Da Vinci in the Vatican. Compare this to the Louvre in Paris where there are five Da Vinci paintings including the Mona Lisa and twenty-two of his drawings. The painting owned by the Vatican is called Saint Jerome In The Wilderness and it is actually unfinished. It can be found in the Pinacoteca which is the picture gallery in the Vatican that was constructed in 1932 under Pope Pius XI.
Leonardo Da Vinci was born in the town of Vinci outside of Florence on the 15th of April 1453. Although he painted some of the most well-known paintings in art history there are surprisingly very few to be seen in the world today. In fact, less than 20 of his paintings survive. Of the paintings, Da Vinci did paint a vast amount of these works are unfinished. The reason a lot of his works are unfinished is because Da Vinci was seldom satisfied with his paintings and the works he did finish could take many years to complete which often frustrated his patrons. The painting of Saint Jerome in the Pinacoteca is one such example of his unfinished works.
The painting of Saint Jerome In The Wilderness
The painting depicts an elderly Saint Jerome on a retreat in the Syrian desert where he lived as a hermit serving his penance for the guilt he felt from his youth. Saint Jerome was born in around 342 A.D in what is now modern-day Croatia and died in Bethlehem in his mid-70s in the year 420 A.D. He is most well known for translating the Bible into Latin.
In Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting of the saint, he is gazing at a crucifix which can just about be seen on the top right of the painting while in his right hand he holds a rock that he used to beat his chest as penance. At Saint Jerome’s feet is a lion which Saint Jerome is associated with and who became his companion after the Saint removed a thorn from the lion’s paw.
On the back left side of the painting you can make out a landscape of a lake and some mountains and on the right, you can make out a church behind the Saint.
The painting of Saint Jerome by Leonardo Da Vinci was painted between the years 1480 and 1490 in Florence and possibly finished in Milan. It is painted with tempera and oil on a walnut panel measuring 100 cm X 75 cm or 41 inches X 30 inches. The Panel had been reduced in size after Da Vinci’s death and even the painting that we see today was torn into five parts before it was mended back together in the early 19th century. The painting was once owned by the French Cardinal, Fesch who happened to be Napoleon’s uncle before it was sold to Pope Pius IX (1792 to 1878).
The painting of Saint Jerome in the wilderness can be found today in Room IX in the Pinacoteca or the Vatican Picture Gallery inside the Vatican Museums.
The painting did travel to New York in 2019 to the Metropolitan Museum where it was put on display in suitable room conditions to keep the fragile painting safe.
Interested in other lesser-known works in the museums? Here are 8 hidden gems at the Vatican.