All Objects

  • oil depicting biblical scene of St. Jerome and lion in background

    Paolo Veronese
    St. Jerome in the Wilderness, 1566–67
    Oil on canvas
    91 x 57 1/4 in. (231 x 145.5 cm)
    Photo Ufficio Beni Culturali del Patriarcato di Venezia

     

    Veronese portrayed St. Jerome — to whom Degli Arbori's chapel was dedicated — on the altarpiece of the chapel in Murano. Jerome, who lived between the fourth and fifth centuries in Dalmatia, is known primarily for having translated the Bible into Latin. He spent substantial time in the desert, probably in Syria, where he led an ascetic life. In a letter to his friend Eustochium, Jerome describes his trials as follows:

    living in the wilderness, in the vast solitude that provides a horrid, sun-scorched abode to monks . . . Tears all day, groans all day — and if, resist it as I might, sleep overwhelmed me, my fleshless bones, hardly holding together, scraped against the bare ground. I say nothing about food or drink . . . All the company I had was scorpions and wild beasts . . . So it was that I wept continually and starved the rebellious flesh for weeks at a time. Often I joined day to night and did not stop beating my breast until the Lord restored my peace of mind . . . Angry and stern with myself I plunged alone, deeper and deeper, into the wasteland; and, as the Lord is my witness, from time to time and after many tears I seemed to be in the midst of throngs of angels.

    While living as a monk in Bethlehem, Jerome was visited by what was to become one of his most frequent iconographic symbols. As he and the other monks were reading the Scriptures, a lion limped into the monastery. The men began to flee in terror, but Jerome realized that the animal was injured and asked his fellow monks to stay and help him remove the thorn that tormented the animal's paw. He then dressed the wound, and the lion, once healed, "lost all his wildness, and lived among [them] like a house pet."

    Veronese depicts Jerome in the desert, with trees framing the composition. On the right, wooden beams held together by ropes and covered by a roof of leaves indicate a rudimentary shelter from the elements. Beneath is a still life of objects traditionally associated with Jerome: a crucifix, an hourglass, a skull, and two open books. The hourglass and skull refer to the transience of life, while the volumes allude to Jerome's translation of the Bible. The saint is an isolated figure in this landscape, alone in his gruelling devotion. His muscular body is tense, covered only by a red cloth secured by a cord. Toothless and haggard, he focuses his tear-filled eyes on the crucifix, while beating his chest with a rock. The bruised ribs are visible, and drops of blood testify to his self-punishment. A divine wind rustles the saint's graying beard in an extraordinary passage of bravura painting. The faithful lion on the left is the only witness to his frenzied state.

  • oil painting depicting seated woman in prison being visited by an angel and man holding keys

    Paolo Veronese
    St. Agatha Visited in Prison by St. Peter, 1566–67
    Oil on canvas
    65 1/2 x 81 1/2 in. (166.5 x 207 cm)
    Photo Ufficio Beni Culturali del Patriarcato di Venezia

     

    The subject of the second canvas created by Veronese for Degli Arbori's chapel in Murano is an unusual one. Agatha was a third-century martyr from Sicily who lived in Catania at the time of the Christian persecution under the Roman emperor Decius. Of noble origin, she had pledged her chastity to God and therefore would not yield to the advances of Quintianus, a Roman consul who was enticed by her beauty. Quintianus first tried to bend Agatha to his will by forcing her to live for a month in a brothel. Firm in her resolve, she left the house untouched. Quintianus then commanded Agatha to worship pagan idols; when she refused, he sent her to jail and ordered her breasts cut off. Left in prison without food or water and with no medical aid, she suffered greatly. One night, she was visited by St. Peter, who told her he had been sent by God to comfort her. When the jailers were alerted by Peter's supernatural light, the saint vanished, and Agatha knelt in prayer, finding that her wounds were healed. Quintianus, however, did not desist. He had her placed naked over burning coals, but she was saved by a heaven-sent earthquake. Finally, having been sent back to jail, she prayed to God to end her torture, and she peacefully died in prison.

    Veronese sets the scene in Agatha's dark prison cell, which he describes in detail. A high, barred window and a door to the right are the only portals to the outside world. Below the window is a bed, a simple wooden frame covered by a thin mattress; underneath it is a chamber pot. A candle illuminates a wood shelf on which Veronese has created a modest, yet exquisite still life: a glass pitcher with red wine, a bowl, and a loaf of bread. Agatha has been interrupted during her prayers in the semi-darkness. She is clothed in a green dress and clutches a pink drapery around her. A heavy chain below the bench makes clear that she is a prisoner in this room. With her left hand, she draws a white, blood-stained cloth to her wounded breasts. She steadies herself against the bench, surprised by the two visitors who have burst into her cell. A blond angel holds a long taper, bringing light into the shadowy room. He precedes St. Peter, who stands by the open door, dominating the right part of the picture. In his left hand, he holds the keys to heaven (one gold, one silver), his standard attribute. With his right hand, he gestures upward, referring at once to his celestial mission and to Agatha's imminent healing, and possibly to her death and heavenly reward. The painting was displayed in the chapel directly across from the St. Jerome, over the entrance door to the chapel.