The Last Communion Of Saint Jerome – Botticelli

“Botticelli,” says the Anonimo Gaddiano, “made very many little paintings which were most beautiful and among the rest a Saint Jerome, a singular work.” Our Saint Jerome may well be the singular work referred to. It comes from the collection of the Marchesi Farinola at the Palazzo Capponi in Florence, being inherited from Gino Capponi, the statesman and historian, in whose time it was attributed to Andrea del Castagno. I t has excellent credentials. Giovanni Morelli pointed out that it was an original by Botticelli and all the modern authorities on the school since his time have commented upon it. The fullest account is found in Herbert Horne’s Botticelli (page 174 and following) and this account has been freely drawn upon in the preparation of this notice of the picture.

At least two old copies are known to exist, one in the Palazzo Balbi at Genoa and the other formerly in the Abdy Collection, sold in 1911. The subject is derived from a legendary history of Saint Jerome translated from the Latin into Italian, the Letters of the Blessed Eusebius, printed in Florence in 1490, about the time of the painting of this picture. These relate how Saint Jerome, sensible of the approach of death, took leave of those about him with admonishments and directions. When he had finished, one of the monks brought him the Holy Sacrament. After he had confessed, he received the Eucharist and threw himself upon the ground singing the canticle of Sim-eon the prophet, Nunc dimittis servum tuum. After this there came a divine light in the room and some saw angels passing away on every side; others did not see the angels but heard a voice which called to Jerome promising him the reward of his labors. And there were some who neither saw the angels nor heard the voice from Heaven but heard only the voice of the dying man who said, ” Behold I come to Thee, merciful Jesus! Receive me whom thou hast redeemed with thy precious blood.” Then his spirit left his body.

Botticelli has pictured the story with the simplest means, leaving out the supernatural elements but losing none of its religious fervor. There are but six figures. Saint Jerome, aided by two monks, has left his bed and kneels to receive the sacrament which a priest in a rose-colored chasuble and blue stole ad-ministers to him. Two acolytes carrying lighted candles attend. The action takes place in Saint Jerome’s cell, built of wattled reeds and shown, as on the stage, with one wall removed. The figures are at the foot of the bed. At its head are a crucifix, palm branches, and a cardinal’s hat. The clear sky, blue toward the zenith and fading into a luminous gray below, shows above the angles of the gable and through two windows, one at each side of the narrow room.

Mr. Horne finds fault with the exaggeration of the size of the head of Saint Jerome but adds “this is perhaps the one defect in a picture which otherwise must be placed among the finest of Botticelli’s smaller works.”