MANSUETI, Giovanni
(known 1485-1526 in Venice)

St Jerome in the Desert

Oil on panel, 68 x 90 cm
Accademia Carrara, Bergamo

This relatively small panel shows a subject that became very popular in Venetian painting in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, thanks above all to the example of Giovanni Bellini. Mansueti shows many of the details that had already become conventional for paintings of the subject: the crucifix, the lion, the rustic dwelling, the discarded cardinal's robe and hat, and symbols of human mortality, such as the skull and hourglass. But in contrast to St Jerome pictures by Bellini and by other Venetian painters such as Cima and Lotto, Mansueti packs his composition with an enormous amount of further detail: a bear, a stoat, a dog, a deer, a rabbit, two monkeys, and two leopards in the foreground; a shepherd with sheep and cows in the right middleground; a river with gondoliers, washerwomen, swans and ducks, also in the middleground; and winding roads, with a man and his donkey, and other men walking and riding, leading the eye to a church, a castle, and distant mountains in the background. The overall effect is cluttered. Nevertheless, in part because of the very naivety of the expression, the picture communicates a sense of delight in an orderly, domesticated world, where God's creatures, human and animal, coexist in peace and harmony.