Saint Jerome Penitent

Written by  Anna Maria Visser Travagli
A brief history of the work, following its restoration under the supervision of the Musei Civici di Arte Antica.
This St Jerome in the desert in the Church of the Madonnina is without doubt one of Bastianino's least well known works. The hermit saint is portrayed in contemplation of the Cross. This is the work of a Bastianino who had already seen the Sistine Chapel but, while he had been quite won over by Michelangelo's masterpiece, he nevertheless filtered this fundamental experience through the Ferrarese pictorial tradition.

Local sources mention the presence of the St Jerome in the Church of the Madonna della Porta di Sotto, commonly known as the Madonnina. The church was built to provide a suitable home for a much venerated image of the Virgin.

According to Guarini, it was built in 1526; according to Scalabrini, in 1531; after the earthquake of 1570 the damaged façade was reconstructed. In 1631 the church was given over to the Order of San Camillo. In 1813, the Town Council of Ferrara acquired the church, which was reopened for worship. Today it is a parish church.
Bastianino's painting, previously in the Recalchi family chapel, and later on the wall of the presbytery, was removed to be shown in the exhibition dedicated to the artist held in Palazzo dei Diamanti in 1985. When the exhibition closed, the work was handed back to the city administration and housed in Palazzo Schifanoia pending its return to the church of the Madonnina.

That same night there was a burglary. The thieves took the painting attributed to Venturini, The Presentation of Mary in the Temple, a Via Crucis and other minor works on religious themes. Nothing was recovered. The target was Bastianino's St Jerome, which, in view of the risk, was not given back to the church until burglar alarms were fitted.

Soon after this, the painting, which was extremely delicate like all the panel paintings executed by Bastianino, began to show worrying signs of deterioration and the work was handed over to the restorer Pietro Tranchina, whose brief was to stabilize the state of conservation.
Restoration proper became possible only very recently, thanks to the interest of Ferrariae Decus and financing from the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Ferrara.