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: A Portrait of a Renaissance Cardinal as St. Jerome


Everett Fahy



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
In 1970 the Minneapolis Institute of Arts added to its collections a splendid portrait of a cardinal.1 While the identity of the cardinal and the artist who painted him are both open to question, there can be little doubt that this is one of the most important Italian Renaissance portraits in America, on a level with Raphael's Portrait of Fedra Inghirami in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, or Bronzino's Portrait of a Young Man in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. It is a work of great beauty by a great High Renaissance master. In the present article I should like to suggest that this master is Antonio Allegri, called Correggio. Before giving my reasons for this attribution, I shall describe the painting and summarize its past history.For a painting executed on a wood panel, it is exceptionally well preserved. During the more than 450 years since it was painted, it has suffered only the slightest losses. Composed of a mixed tempera and oil medium, the paint surface has a flawless, enamel-like consistency. It retains today all the subtle modelling and brilliance of color it had when first created.2The picture is a half-length portrait of a cardinal seated at a desk in the corner of a room. He wears a cardinal's yoked red mantel over an alb with blue-violet sleeves. He also wears a cardinal's tight-fitting red cap or baretta. The walls of the room are painted a cool gray, contrasting with the glowing red of the cardinal's garments.The cardinal gazed penetratingly at us. He seems to have been momentarily interrupted at his work, for his right hand is poised to write in a book on the lectern, while his left hand steadies another open book on the ledge at the bottom of the picture.The desk is a curious double-tiered circular affair composed of an antique capital ornamented with classical garlands and a pair of rams' heads and topped with a lectern. The gray box next to the lectern holds ink and blotting sand, and against this container leans the scalpel used for correcting vellum manuscripts. A pair of books, their clasps open and though just having been consulted, are on the lower tier of the desk. Recessed in the wall behind the cardinal is a shelf, containing three more books, an hourglass, and a clear glass bottle.The window above the desk provides a sweeping view of an imaginary landscape with green meadows in the middleground and fantastic jagged blue hills in the distance. In the foreground an elderly man with a beard kneels before a crucifix attached to the tree in front of him. Partially covered with a robe the same color as cardinal's sleeves, he is about to beat his bare chest with a stone. Resting on the ground nearby are a lion and a flat-brimmed cardinal's hat. These attributes, plus his halo, identify him as St. Jerome.This was a popular way to represent the saint. He is shown doing penitence for his sins in the wilderness. The lion resting beside him is his legendary companion, symbolizing the saint's miraculous character. Jerome spent four years of his life as a hermitic recluse, and in art he is most often depicted this way, as a penitent, since it illustrates his Christian faith and spiritual devotion.In contrast to the penitent Jerome in the landscape, the sitter of the portrait is shown in the guise of Jerome the biblical scholar. In church history the saint is best know for his compilation of the standard Latin Bible, known as the Vulgate, commissioned by Pope Damasus in 382 and based on the disparate versions of the Old and New Testament then extant. He was also an active churchman and wrote many Latin epistles and commentaries. During the fifteenth century this side of St. Jerome's life was recognized by humanist scholars who came to regard him as their patron saint. Whereas throughout the Middle Ages he had most often been depicted as a penitent hermit, in the fifteenth century a new depiction sprang up, showing him dressed in cardinal's robes and engaged in study.An early example of the new depiction of St. Jerome is the small Flemish painting of 1442, St. Jerome in His Study, in The Detroit Institute of Arts.3 Attributed by the museum to Jan Van Eyck, but in my opinion by Petrus Christus, it appears to be the prototype in Italy for a number of similar representations of St. Jerome, including Domenico Ghirlandajo's fresco of 1480 in the church of Ognissanti, Florence, and Matteo di Giovanni's large altarpiece of 1492 in The Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Like the Minneapolis portrait, these paints show St. Jerome seated in a study before an inclined lectern with an hourglass, books, bottles, and writing paraphernalia.The cardinal portrayed in the Minneapolis painting wanted to be identified with St. Jerome. As a result his portrait tells us more about him than merely what he looked like. Compare the Minneapolis portrait, for example, with the closely contemporary Portrait of Bishop Altobello Averoldo in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.4 It is nothing more than a bust-length portrait of a prelate before a landscape. Its sole purpose is to record the bishops likeness without disclosing his spiritual or intellectual character. The cardinal portrayed in the Minneapolis picture, on the other hand, is associated with St. Jerome, both as a penitent Christian and as a man of learning.The portrait serves as a perfect representation of the Renaissance church mind combining as it does the opposing mentalities of the period, the intense personal mysticism and the humanist pursuit of classical studies. This dichotomy is drawn in the painting by the contrast between the ecstatic penitence in the landscape and the scholarly activity in the foreground, a division further underlined by the bizarre design of the cardinal's desk. Inspired by classical antiquity, the moldings, rams' heads, and garlands were borrowed from some pagan monument. Yet they are boldly incorporated in a portrait of a Renaissance cardinal, making us further aware of his complex and totally fascinating character.The Minneapolis portrait has a long and distinguished history. It belonged to Richard Payne Knight (1750-1824), the English numismatist who lived in London and at Downton Castle, Ludlow (Hertfordshire). According to his records, it was purchased in Rome “on the approach of the French under Bonaparte [which would bean about 1796-1797] by Wm. Groves, brother of the Admiral of that Name.” Nothing seems to be known about this William Groves, nor is there any trace of the portrait in any eighteenth-century Italian guidebook or inventory.5For over a century and a half the portrait remained in the possession of Knight's descendants at Downton Castle. When he died, he left it to his younger brother, Thomas Andrew Knight (d.1838). He in turn gave it to his son-in-law, Andrew Rouse-Boughton-Knight (d. 1909). It then passed to his son, Charles Rouse-Boughton-Knight, who bequeathed it to his nephew, Major W. M. P. Kincaid Lennox. Major Lennox, the present owner of Downton Castle, offered the portrait for sale at Sotheby's in 1957.6Richard Payne Knight was a curious figure. A bachelor, he gained a certain notoriety with the publication of his first book, An Account of the Remains of the Worship of Priapus lately existing in Isernia; to which is added a Discourse on the Worship of Priapus, and its Connexion with the Mystic Theology of the Ancients (1786). Many people were scandalized by its subject, and to this day Englishmen remember the author as Priapus Knight. He wrote more conventional books on various classical subjects and gradually came to be recognized as a connoisseur and authority on ancient art.7Knight frequently visited Italy, making his first trip there in 1777. On his travels he purchased many important antique coins and gems, forming the nucleus of the British Museum's collection. He also bought early Italian paintings, one of the most outstanding being the lovely Adoration of the Magi by Andrea Mantegna now in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. In Italy he also began his friendship with Sir William Hamilton, the British envoy at Naples who shared many of Knight's antiquarian interests. In 1802 Knight entertained Lady Hamilton and Lord Nelson at Downton Castle.8 They probably saw the Minneapolis portrait while they were there.Knight kept a notebook, now in the possession of Major Lennox, in which he described his paintings. About the Minneapolis painting he wrote that it is a portrait of Cardinal Bibbiena by Raphael (1483-1520). If Knight was told this when he brought the painting, it may have seemed plausible to him because Bibbiena was known to be a great patron of Raphael's. In 1516 he commissioned Raphael to decorate a bathroom in the Vatican with frescoes designed after the antique, and in 1518 while he was papal legate in France he had Raphael paint the Portrait of Giovanni d'Aragona, now in the Louvre, as a gift for Francis I.9The identification of the Minneapolis portrait may also have appealed to a rather eccentric Knight because of a story related by Vasari that Cardinal Bibbiena was so fond of Raphael that he offered him his niece, Marietta Dovizi, as a bride. According to Vasari, Raphael died before the nuptials could take place. The story, however, must be apocryphal since Raphael's supposed fiancée died five years before he did.10 Yet what could have been more engaging to Knight than a portrait by Raphael of the cardinal who encouraged him to marry his niece?When Knight lent the painting in 1816 to exhibition of “Pictures. . . Belonging to the Nobility and Gentry of England,” it was cataloged as Raphael's portrait of Cardinal Bibbiena.11 After Knight's death, however, some doubts appeared about this identification of the picture. In 1882 when A. R. Boughton Knight lent it to the Winter Exhibition of Works by Old Masters at the Royal Academy, it was still called Cardinal Bibbiena but the attribution to Raphael was more tentatively phrased as “Ascribed to.”12 On the occasion of the latter exhibition, Jean Paul Richter, the art critic and connoisseur, wrote about the portrait in a letter to Giovanni Morelli. He ignored the identification of the cardinal and disputed the attribution to Raphael.13One has a clear idea of what Bibbiena looked like. It is known, for example, that Raphael recorded his features in the fresco of The Battle of Ostia in the Vatican. Bibbiena is represented standing on the left next to Leo X, and he does not look anything like the cardinal in the Minneapolis painting. There is, moreover, a portrait on canvas of Cardinal Bibbiena in the Pitti Palace, Florence, often regarded as a copy after a lost original by Raphael.14 A recent cleaning, however shows that it is substantially an autograph late work of the master. Even in the photograph of it illustrated here, it is certain that he cannot be the cardinal in the Minneapolis portrait, the shapes of the eyes, lips, nose, and jaw being entirely different.Despite this conclusive evidence, the portrait is sometimes still called Cardinal Bibbiena. It was cataloged as such in an exhibition in 1962 at Wildenstein's,15 and in 1968 Berenson listed it as Cardinal Bibbiena and Penitent S. Jerome in Background.16 Somewhat mysteriously, the sitter has also been identified as one Cardinal Bessarione without any basis of fact.17 Since that prelate died in 1477, decades before the probable date of the painting, this identification can be dismissed. Considering all of the available information, I would prefer to leave the sitter anonymous and simply call the painting a Portrait of a Renaissance Cardinal as St. Jerome.Who painted the portrait is a question that remains to be answered. As noted above, Knight's attribution to Raphael was already questioned in the nineteenth century in an exhibition catalogue and by Jean Paul Richter.18 The latter asserted it was painted by the Florentine painter Franscesco Ubertini, called Bacchiacca (1494-1557). More recently the picture has been published several times as the work of Ferrarese painter Lorenzo Costa (1460-1525).19Neither the attribution to Bacchiacca nor to Costa is convincing. Although there is some analogy in the painting for Bacchiacca's sense of deep glowing color, the details of the painting do not correspond in any way with his documented work, and the attribution to him can be summarily dismissed. The attribution to Costa, on the other hand, is more plausible and merits consideration.Born and apparently trained in Ferrara, Costa belongs to the generation of late fifteenth-century Emilian artists who were influenced by the incisive linear style of Franscesco del Cossa and Ercole de'Roberti. He worked for over three decades in Bologna, gradually evolving an exaggerated personal style of mellifluous compositions filled with languid, child-like figures. A recurring trait in his paintings is his treatment of draperies arranged in limp curvilinear patterns. After 1506 he worked in Mantua where he succeeded Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506) as the court painter for the Gonzaga family. During the remaining years of his life, his already ornamental style became increasingly more courtly and precious.None of Costa's work of the Bolognese or Mantuan period displays the firm sense of control found in the Minneapolis painting. The forms in Costa's paintings are relaxed, and the folds of drapery in particular have a schematic, loosely drawn quality. In the Minneapolis portrait there is a recognizable precision in the way, for example, the folds of the cardinal's sleeve are drawn. Within Costa's auvre there is no exact parallel for the accomplished design and masterful execution of the Minneapolis portrait nor did he ever paint a portrait so elaborate or so complex.Even in his sixteenth-century works, Costa's mentality is limited by Quattrocento outlook. His method of composing pictures is a random accumulation of decorative flourishes that rarely achieve a cohesive monumental unity. In the Minneapolis portrait the interplay of the carefully counter-balanced diagonal lines (slant of the hill behind the penitent St. Jerome, the sloping contours of the cardinal's shoulders, the angle of the lectern, and so forth) reveal a cogent, interlocking structure.The Minneapolis portrait would appear to be the work of an artist belonging to the generation immediately following Costa, since the portrait's unified composition is more characteristic of the High Renaissance than that of earlier representations of St. Jerome in his study, which are all full-length and cluttered with endless paraphernalia. The sitter is posed against the corner of a room, in a way that was popular in Italian paintings of the early sixteenth century. The format was one first used by Dirk Bouts in his portrait of 1462 in The National Gallery, London, but seldom adopted in Italy before 1500.20The author of the Minneapolis portrait would appear to be Antonio Allegri, called Correggio (shortly before 1494-1534). Although he was outlived by Costa, he was a much younger contemporary, and his style was more advanced. As a young artist he was influenced by Costa.21 That the artists were also profoundly different can be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where there are large paintings by both artists, of comparable subjects, approximately the same size, and painted within a year of one another.Costa's Altarpiece of Sts. Catherine, Anthony, and Ursula was commissioned in1518 for the church of San Niccolo at Carpi. Correggoi's Altarpiece of Sts. Peter, Marta, Mary Magdalen, and Leonard was painted a year earlier for a church at Parma. Both altarpieces are derivations from Raphael's St. Cecilia Altarpiece, a grandiloquent composition of five full-length saints standing in a row. Commissioned in 1514 for the church of Santa Maria del Monte at Bologna, Raphael's altarpiece had a powerful impact upon artists like Costa and Correggio who presumably saw it soon after it was painted. Correggio's response to the St. Cecilia Altarpiece is a highly intelligent, though provincial, interpretation of Raphael's classical style. the four saints in Correggio's altarpiece stand in rhetorical postures, poised with a sense of deliberate classical decorum. Costa merely apes the new style. The three saints in his altarpiece are enveloped in swirling drapery that detracts from their dainty postures.The difference between the two artists is also apparent in the comparison of details such as the hands of St. Anthony in Costa's altarpiece and of St. Leonard in Correggio's. The hand by Costa is flimsy and seems to lack a bony structure, whereas the one by Correggio is firm and each joint is clearly articulated. It is, moreover, extraordinarily like the left hand of the cardinal in the Minneapolis portrait.There are other elements in the style of the Minneapolis portrait that point to its being by Correggio. The drawing of the cardinal's sleeve, for example, can be compared with the drawing of the Madonna's sleeve in Correggio's earliest documented painting, The Madonna of St. Francis, of 1514 in the Gallery at Dresden. There also is a similarity in the atmospheric way the cardinal's face and hands are treated. The painting of these parts is so sensitive that it gives the impression of living flesh enveloped in light and air.A final point linking the portrait with Correggio is the design of the cardinal's desk. Its peculiar shape has no precedence in Costa's work, whereas it is comparable in spirit to the structure of the marble base of the throne in Correggio's Madonna of St. Francis. But most significant of all, the double rams' heads on the side of the desk reappear in another painting by Correggio and not in the work of any other artist of the time. They occupy a conspicuous part of the decorative scheme of Correggio's first important commission, the frescoes on the ceiling of the Camera di San Paolo. Considering the other suggestions of Correggio's early style in the portrait, the double rams' heads may be taken as another indication of his authorship.Correggio painted the Camera di San Paolo ceiling sometime shortly before 1520. During the two preceding years he was absent from his native town of Correggio for two extended periods. There are no records of his being there during the ten-month period between March, 1518, and January, 1519, and again during the eight-month period between February and October, 1519. Most writers assume that during the first of these intervals he visited Rome and acquainted himself with the works of Raphael and Michelangelo. This seems to be a reasonable assumption since the Camera di San Paolo frescoes at Parma, which are usually assigned to the second interval, reflect the influence of Raphael and Michelangelo, though not yet as strongly as Correggio's later frescoes in the cupola of San Giovanni Evangelista which are powerfully Michelangelesque in style.To be accepted as a work of Corregio's, the Minneapolis portrait would have to be dated about 1519. Like the Camera di San Paolo frescoes, it must be considered a relatively early work of the artist's. It should be emphasized that the portrait is an unusual addition to the canon of the artists of the artist's work, which consists almost entirely of religious and mythological paintings. Correggio is, however, a significant and highly individual portraitist. This is particularly evident in his signed painting of Ginerva Rangone in the Hermitage Museum, Leningrad. Like the Cardinal in the view of open landscape to her right, comparable to the view through the window in the Minneapolis painting. Surrounding the sitter are attributes of marriage and sorrow for her dead husband. As she re-married in 1519, her portrait must date from about the same time as the Minneapolis paintings. Considering the great beauty of both pictures, it is curious that Correggio did not continue to practice the art of portraiture as so many of his contemporaries did. There are no other portraits by him after this early period in his career. Although Correggio is not remembered today as a portrait painter, the Minneapolis and Leningrad pictures provide evidence that he could work with considerable success in this genre.Endnotes
  1. 70.17. The John R. Van Derlip and The William Hood Dunwood Funds. Oil and tempera on wood, 32 1/4” x 30”.
  2. A photograph documenting its appearance before restoration was made by A. C. Cooper Ltd. of London at the time of the 1957 auction at Sotheby's. It shows flaking paint on the wall to the left of the cardinal's face, some minor losses in his neck, but otherwise reveals the paint film to be virtually as we see it today. This photograph is reproduced by Bernard Bereson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance, A list of the Principal Artists and Their Works with an Index of Places: Central Italian Schools, vol. 3, plate 1631.
  3. Erwin Panofsky, Early Netherlandish Painting: Its Origins and Character (Cambridge, Masss., 1958), vol. 1, pp. 1, 189, and 431, note 4.
  4. The Portrait of Bishop Averoldo is dated about 1505 in Fern Rusk Shapley's catalogue, Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: Italian Schools XV-XVI Century, p. 71. I believe however, that it must postdate Francia's Portrait of Federigo Gonzaga of 1510 in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and that it probably was executed in Bologna in 1515.
  5. Mrs. Elizabeth Gardner of The Metropolitan Museum of Art kindly looked into the question of William Groves for me, but was unable to find any information on him. She suggested that perhaps Groves is a misreading of Graves, but there also is nothing known about any William Graves of the period. There was a John Thomas Groves, of the right generation, an architect who lived in Italy between 1780 and 1790 and died in 1811.
  6. Sotheby & Co. Ltd., London, June 26, 1957, lot 24, as Lorenzo Costa, Portrait of a Cardinal, said to be Bernardo Bibbinea. Bought for 28,000 pounds by Wildenstein & Co., New York. It was sold in 1963 by Wildstein to Jean Vergé of Paris and Lausanne, and it remained in his possession until 1969. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts acquired the picture in 1970 through Wildenstein's.I am grateful to Mrs. Elizabeth Gardner for information about the Knight and Lennox families.
  7. Dictionary of National Biography, ed. Sidney Lee (London, 1909), vol. 11, 259-260.
  8. Brian Fothergill, Sir William Hamilton: Envoy Extraordinary (New York, 1969), pp. 173-174, 414.
  9. Cardinal Bibbiena's actual name was Bernado Divizio. He was called Bibbiena after the small town near Florence where he was born. He was intimately connected with the Medici throughout his life. In 1513, shortly after Giovanni de'Medici became Pope Leo X, he was ordained Cardinal of Santa Maria in Portico. Aside from his patronage of Raphael, he is remembered in one of the leading playwrights of his day. For more about his life and writings, see the article on him in the Enciclopedia Italiana (1932), vol. 13, pp. 191-192.
  10. See Milansti's notes to Giorgio Vasari, Le vite (Florence, 1906), vol. 4, p. 381, note 1.
  11. An Account of all the Pictures exhibited in the Rooms of the British Institution from 1813 to 1823 (London, 1824), pp. 96-97.
  12. Exhibition of Works by the Old Masters and by Deceased Masters of the British School, Winter Exhibition, The Royal Academy, London, 1882, p. 42, no. 199.
  13. Italienische Malerei der Renaissance im Briefwechsel von Giovanni Morelli und Jean Paul Richter: 1876-1891, eds. Irma and Gisela Richter (Baden-Baden, 1960), p. 199 (the letter is dated London, January 6, 1882).
  14. Luitpold Dussler, Raffael: Kritisches Verzeichnis der Gemälde, Wandbilder und Bildteppiche (Munich, 1966), p. 28.
  15. The Painter as Historian: Mythological, Religious, Secular Paintings of the XV to XIX Centuries, Wildenstein, New York, 1962, p. 18, no. 26.
  16. Bernard Berenson, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 96.
  17. Ranieri Varese (Lorenzo Costa [Milan, 1967], pp. 53-54, 76; illustrated plate 54) refers to an identification of the sitter as Cardinal Bessarione in Sele Arte, vol. 6 (July-August, 1957), p. 79. But the latter reference merely cites the painting as a portrait of a cardinal. It is puzzling where Varese got his reference to Bessarione. In any case, he correctly rejects the possibility that the painting could portray him, since Bessarione died long before the probable date of the painting.
  18. See notes 12 and 13.
  19. By Berenson (note 16) and Varese (note 17), and in the 1962 exhibition catalogue (note 15) and the Sotheby sale catalogue (note 6).
  20. See John Pope-Hennessy, The Portrait in the Renaissance (New York, 1966), p. 59, figs. 59 and 60; and Everett Fahy, “The Earliest Works of Fra Bartolommeo,” in The Art Bulletin, vol. 51 (June, 1969), 146.
  21. Many writers have remarked upon the affinity of their styles; see for example, A. E. Popham, Correggio's Drawings (Oxford, 1957), p. 13; and Myron Laskin, Jr., “A New Correggio for Chicago,” in The Burlington Magazine, vol. 108 (April, 1966), p. 190.
Referenced Works of Art
  1. Detail: Head of Cardinal
  2. Detail: Writing Desk
  3. Detail: Shelf with Hourglass, Books, and Bottle
  4. Detail: Landscape with Penitent St. Jerome
  5. JAN VAN EYCK. St. Jerome in His Study, 1442. The Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan
  6. MATTEO DI GIOVANNI. St. Jerome in His Study, 1492. Courtesy of the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Gift of Edward Waldo Forbes
  7. FRANCESCO FRANCIA. Portrait of Bishop Altobello Averoldo, ca. 1515. The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Samuel H. Kress Collection
  8. RAPHAEL AND ASSISTANT, Portrait of Cardinal Bibbiena, ca. 1518. Florence, Galleria Palatina. Photo Anderson
  9. FRANCESCO COSTA. Altarpiece of Sts. Catherine, Anthony, and Ursula, 1518. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
  10. CORREGGIO. Altarpiece of Sts. Peter, Marta, Mary Magdalen, and Leonard,, 1517. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
  11. Detail: Hand in Costa Altarpiece
  12. Detail: Hand in Correggio Altarpiece
  13. Detail: Hand in Minneapolis Portrait
  14. CORREGGIO. Madonna of St. Francis, 1514 (Detail). Dresden Gemäldegalerie. Photo Alinari
  15. CORREGGIO. Cieling Frescoes, 1519. Parma, Ex-convent of San Paolo. Photo Anderson
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Source: Everett Fahy, "A Portrait of a Renaisance Cardinal as St. Jerome," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 59 (1970): 4-19.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009