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The Last Communion of St. Jerome

February 24, 2011

 

 

The Last Communion of St. Jerome

Agostino Carracci 1592.

12’4” x 7’ 4” Oil on canvas.

For the Carthusian monastery, now in Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna.

The St. Jerome altarpiece was very important to post-Trent patrons.  In this particular one, the Carthusian monastery defended its Catholic Faith against Protestant attacks on the Sacraments.  The Sacrament depicted here is the Eucharist.  Being an altarpiece, this scene is a continuation of the actual church and altar with the Host directly above the priest, candles, incense, etc.

Agostino painted this altarpiece with the decrees of the Counter Reformation in mind, most importantly clarity, without excessive quotations.  The subject of the painting is clear: St. Jerome receiving the Host.  The viewer’s eye is drawn into the x-shaped composition via Jerome’s orange robe.  The eye hesitates a moment on the nearby skull, then moves up Jerome’s body to where he is offered the Eucharist.   The priest giving Jerome Communion gazes intently at Jerome, and Jerome stares back.  This creates a vacuum of negative space between the two figures with the most important part of the painting between them.  In the original drawing, Jerome’s gesture and position toward the priest and the Host is not as intense.  This weakened the entire effect of the scene, resulting in the successful final composition.

The scene takes place in front of (or within) a monumental architectural framework.  An open archway or small barrel vault is in the background, through which the infinite distance is seen.  This gives the composition a sense of place and depth.  The original cartoon shows the archway off to the right of the composition, blocking in the figures and the viewer.

C. van Tuyll van Serooskerken, et al. “Carracci.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. 23 Feb. 2011 <http://www.oxfordartonline.com.libproxy.temple.edu/subscriber/article/grove/art/T014340pg2&gt;.

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