Giuseppe Antonio Petrini is considered one of the most gifted and original artists of the Baroque from the Italian region in Switzerland. He is recorded as having studied with Bartolomeo Guidobono (1654-1709) after 1700 and his early works suggest other Lombard, Venetian and Roman influences. Although his later works imply a knowledge of mystic Spanish painting, he was capable of painting in a more traditional manner in accord with popular tastes in Switzerland and Northern Italy, most notably in his series of Allegories of the Seasons (c. 1740; Lugano, Museo Cantonale d'Arte).
With its dramatic lighting and energetic brushwork, this picture of Saint Jerome can be compared with Saints Paul the Hermit and Anthony Abbot, 1747, in the church at Melide (see R. Chiappini, Giuseppe Antonio Petrini, exhibition catalogue, Lugano, 1991, pp. 208-9, no. 52). Although the pose adopted by the Saint is essentially Baroque and shows a clear debt to the the Lugano-born painter, Pier Francesco Mola (1612-1666), the palette and delicate treament of the landscape suggest the artist was not unaffected by his travels in Northern Italy and had started to adopt decorative rococo elements that he may have encountered in the work of Tiepolo.
Cardinal Joseph Fesch was the half-brother of Letizia Ramolino Bonaparte (1750-1836), mother of the future Emperor Napoléon I, to whom Fesch was close in age. From the mid-1790s to his death in 1839 he formed one of the largest private collections of paintings of the nineteenth century, taking advantage of the dispersal of a number of other collections to acquire French, Dutch and Flemish paintings, as well as Italian works from some of the great Roman patrician families. According to the inventory drawn up at his death, Fesch's collection comprised nearly 16,000 works.