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Saint Jerome in prayer

Attributed to Rocca Giacomo

(active in Rome c. 1575.-1605)

This painting on slate appears for the first time in the 1642 inventory of the possessions of Ortensia Santacroce, through whose estate it entered the Borghese Collection no later than 1693. It depicts St Jerome, a Father of the Church, who is here portrayed kneeling in front of the Cross as he is about to pound his chest with a stone. Several of his attributes are visible next to him: a skull, symbol of the vanity of earthly life; a book, perhaps the Vulgate, his translation of the Bible into Latin; a cardinal’s hat; and the inseparable lion: according to tradition, Jerome healed the animal by removing a thorn from its paw, which from then on was the saint’s faithful companion.

In all likelihood executed by the painter Giacomo Rocca, the composition seems to also reflect Jerome’s ideas about feeding the soul and mind: ‘When I say the cross, I am not thinking of the wood, but of the Passion. [...] Happy the man who bears in his heart the cross’  (Commentary on Psalm XCV).


Object details

Inventory
510
Location
Date
early 17th century
Classification
Period
Medium
oil on slate
Dimensions
44 x 36 cm
Frame

Salvator Rosa, 55.8 x 47.8 x 5.5 cm

Provenance

Rome, collection of Ortensia Santacroce, 1642, 30 June (Inv. Ortensia Santacroce 1642, no. 51; Della Pergola 1959); Rome, Borghese Collection, 1693 (Inv. 1693, room VIII, no. 12; Della Pergola 1959) Inv. 1790, room X, no. 8; Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese 1833, p. 17. Purchased by Italian state, 1902.


Commentary

This painting entered the Borghese Collection from the estate of Ortensia Santacroce, wife of Francesco Borghese and sister-in-law of Pope Paul V. One of her inventories, dated at the bottom ’30 June 1642’ (Borghese Archive, Vatican Apostolic Archive, 457, f. 27), contains the entry of ‘a painting with the Crucifixion and St Jerome on Lydian stone’ (Inv. 1642, no. 51; see Della Pergola 1959). The work was transferred to the Borghese Collection no later than 1693, when the family inventory of that year more precisely listed ‘a painting of two spans on slate, with Christ on the Cross, St Jerome kneeling as he pounds his chest, the lion at the foot of the cross with a skull, no. 37. Gilded frame, by fra’ Bastiano del Piombo’ (Inv. 1693; Della Pergola 1959).

While its provenance is certain, doubts continue to persist about the painter of this work. The inventory of 1693 attributed it to Sebastiano del Piombo, yet this name was already changed to Girolamo Muziano in that of 1790. The compiler of the 1833 Inventario Fidecommissario evidently rejected this attribution but left the description of the work without naming a specific artist. Indeed Paola della Pergola (1959) published the composition as by an anonymous painter, and subsequent critics generally followed her lead (C. Stefani in Galleria Borghese 2000; Herrmann Fiore 2006).

What we can affirm is that the painting was executed by a late-Mannerist painter active in Rome in the early 17th century, as is suggested by the type of crucified Christ, which recalls Roman models, and by the support, namely slate. The use of this material was in fact rediscovered by Sebastiano del Piombo following the Sack of Rome in 1527 and was especially popular in that city, where beginning in the early 17th century small-format paintings commissioned primarily for purposes of private worship were in great demand on the part of sophisticated, cultured collectors.

The painter of this composition, then, most likely formed part of this circle. This was in fact the case of Girolamo Rocca, the artist from Rome who trained under Daniele da Volterra, whose works on stone were similarly successful. Roberto Longhi (1928) was the first to propose the name of Rocca; recently, the present writer expressed his agreement with this hypothesis (A. Iommelli in Meraviglia senza tempo 2022).

At the same time, this attribution must be made with great caution: unfortunately very few works have until now been ascribed to this artist with certainty. In his short biographical sketch of Rocca in Le vite’ de pittori, Giovanni Baglione (1642) wrote of a composition with a similar subject executed by the painter for the altar of the Ceuli chapel in the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Rome.

Antonio Iommelli




Bibliography
  • G. Baglione, Vite de’ pittori scultori e architetti. Dal Pontefìcato di Gregario XIII del l572 In fino a’ tempi di Papa Urbano VIII nel 1642, Roma 1642, pp. 62-63
  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese, in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 434;
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 220;
  • G. Cantalamessa, Note manoscritte al Catalogo di A. Venturi del 1893, Arch. Gall. Borghese, 1911-1912, n. 510;
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 224;
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, II, Roma 1959, p. 96, n. 136;
  • P. della Pergola, L’Inventario Borghese del 1693 (III), in “Arte Antica e Moderna”, XXX, 1965, pp. 202, 211;
  • P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 313;
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, Galleria Borghese Roma scopre un tesoro. Dalla pinacoteca ai depositi un museo che non ha più segreti, San Giuliano Milanese 2006, p. 164;
  • A. Iommelli, in Petrae volant, scripta manent: tracce di pietre in casa Borghese nel XVII secolo, in Meraviglia senza tempo. Pittura su pietra a Roma tra Cinquecento e Seicento, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Galleria Borghese, 2022-23), a cura di F. Cappelletti, P. Cavazzini, Roma 2022, pp. 109, 110 fig. 101, 113 n. 68.