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Est: £200,000 GBP - £300,000 GBP
Sotheby'sDecember 08, 2004London, United Kingdom

Item Overview


inscribed with inventory number lower right: N.o 34[0]

oil on canvas


166.6 by 186.6 cm.; 65 5/8 by 73 1/2 in.

Artist or Maker


As a young man in Siena Bernardino Mei trained in the workshop of Raffaello Vanni, from whom he is thought to have learnt how to mix unusual colours. Mei's paintings as described by his biographer Ettore Romagnoli are characterised by their lively use of colour, their excellent design, and marked espressione (literally expressivity): "Tutte queste pitture sono in ottimo stato, tutte eccellenti, e vivaci nel colorito; magistrali nel disegno; diligentemente tutte condotte, studiate e dottamente espresse..." (E. Romagnoli, Biografia cronologica de' bellartisti Senesi, 1200-1800: opera manoscritta in tredici volumi, vol. X, 1835, ed. Florence 1976, p. 475). Bernardino Mei had the good fortune of being patronised and favoured by Fabio Chigi, later Pope Alexander VII, who belonged to one of the most powerful families in Siena, the artist's native city. Chigi was elected Pope in 1655 and two years later summoned Mei to Rome, where the latter joined the Accademia di San Luca. Whilst in Rome Mei executed a number of paintings, of a religious and allegorical nature, both for the Pope and for his nephew Cardinal Flavio Chigi. The present work is a fine example of Mei's style during these first years in Rome and Prof. Fabio Bisogni, to whom we are grateful for endorsing the attribution from colour transparencies, has suggested a date of execution between 1657 and 1660. In this picture Mei has maintained the colourful palette so characteristic of Sienese painting of the late 16th and early 17th Century, but the naturalism with which St. Jerome is realised demonstrates the artist's knowledge of Neapolitan painting and, in particular, of the work of Jusepe de Ribera (an artist who was well represented in the collection of Cardinal Flavio Chigi and therefore of particular interest for Mei). The two angels, reminiscent of the angel in Mei's Holy Family altarpiece in the left transept of the church of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome (1659), are quintessentially baroque: their complex poses and the rhythmic movement of their drapery are inspired by the sculpture of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, an artist whom Alexander VII had employed in 1655 for the decoration of the Chigi chapel in the same church.

The iconography of this painting is rare for it combines two different visions of Saint Jerome. The first, of an angel blowing a trumpet in Jerome's ear, apparently took place while he was retiring as a hermit in the desert and illustrates the dream in which he heard the trumpets of the Last Judgement; an episode particularly popular in baroque painting (see, for example, Jusepe de Ribera's treatment of the subject in the Museo di Capodimonte, Naples). The second, the flagellation of St. Jerome by angels, relates to the dream in which the saint saw himself being punished by the angels of God for studying classical literature more than the Bible.

The painting bears an inventory number lower right from an as yet unidentified collection. A painting of St. Jerome, apparently of large dimensions, was in the Della Stufa collection in Siena during the 18th Century but there is no number or description that confirms such an identification with the present work ("S. Girolamo grande, del Mei").

Auction Details

Old Master Paintings, Part One

December 08, 2004, 12:00 AM EST

34-35 New Bond Street, London, LDN, W1A 2AA, UK