This recently rediscovered depiction of Saint Jerome constitutes a major addition to Giovanni Baglione’s known body of work. A complex and original artist, Baglione absorbed a variety of influences, including Raphael, Emilian and Sienese painters, the Cavaliere d’Arpino and Caravaggio, and combined them into a distinct artistic idiom. His vaunted status among Roman painters of the period is indicated not only by Orazio Gentileschi’s description of him as a ‘first-class painter’ during the famous libel suit against Caravaggio in 1603, but Baglione’s election three times as principe of the Accademia di S Luca in Rome and his being knighted in 1606.
The present painting likely dates to the first or second decade of the seventeenth century, a period in which Baglione’s works became more inventive and increasingly Baroque in style. Particularly close is the way Baglione integrated the figure and landscape in works such as his Penitent Magdalene of 1612 in San Domenico, Gubbio. Further comparisons can be made with the artist’s naturalistic depiction of the gnarled hands and feet in works such as the earlier Saint Peter of 1606 (Galleria Sabauda, Turin). Here, Baglione’s particular attention to the dirt beneath the saint’s fingernails displays his indebtedness to the innovations of Caravaggio, despite the acrimonious relationship between the two painters. By contrast, the large-scale figure of Saint Jerome set before a placid landscape with crystalline blue sky conforms to earlier Venetian prototypes like that seen in Girolamo Savoldo’s Mary Magdalene (National Gallery, London). While Baglione would no doubt have had access to Venetian paintings in Roman collections, he also visited Venice on at least one occasion – in the late summer of 1614 (see M. Nicolaci, ‘Giovanni Baglione e i “Virtuosi al Pantheon”: Precisazioni sulla Natività di Gesù con san Giuseppe e sull’eredità del pittore’, in La collezione della Pontificia Insigne Accademia delle Belle Arti e Lettere dei Virtuosi al Pantheon, V. Tiberia, ed., Rome, 2016, p. 65).
Though the early provenance of this painting is unknown, it may correspond with one or another examples of the subject listed in early archival documents. An inventory of the contents of Palazzo Lancellotti drawn up on 15 October 1640 includes as no. 133 reference to ‘a Saint Jerome by Baglione in golden frame’ (Lancellotti Archive, Palazzo, file 26, letter E; quoted in P. Cavazzini, Palazzo Lancellotti ai Coronari, Rome, 1998, pp. 160, 196). The painting is recorded in the family’s possession until 1769, after which it goes untraced. Similarly, Domenico Montelatici’s Villa Borghese Fuori Di Porta Pinciana (1700, p. 221) records a ‘St. Jerome kneeling in front of the Crucifix as a penitent hitting his chest with a stone’ by Baglione. Finally, the painter’s own estate inventory lists three paintings of this subject, albeit with variant dimensions, which remained with his heirs until at least 1652.
This painting will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné on the artist currently in preparation by Michele Nicolaci.