The State of Conservation of the Work

Written by  Elisabetta Lopresti
The destiny of this painting seems bound up with two situations in particular, the first of which was connected solely with its precarious state of conservation, a fact that made any analysis of the problems a rather tricky matter.

The second situation ran parallel to great events inasmuch as, following the important exhibition of 1985, it was only thanks to a renewal of general interest in the St Jerome and to the restoration of the semi-dome in the apse of the Cathedral that it became possible to complete the restoration of the painting and thus to confer a new dignity on the altar-piece in the Church of the Madonnina.

In the course of the restoration, the main causes of the poor state of conservation emerged clearly: the poor quality of the wooden panels and significant climatic changes. The wooden base is made up of five poplar wood panels about two centimetres thick supported by two trapezoidal cross members in deal.
While the somewhat mediocre quality of the materials used is the cause of the deterioration, we feel that the environmental problem was probably present from the day the painting was mounted.

The presence of the St Jerome in the church is documented with a certain continuity despite the suppression under Napoleon, confiscations, and the fire of 1922 that destroyed much of the apse. It is natural, therefore, to presume that the work may have been shifted to other areas of the same complex in order to protect it from these inauspicious events.
These areas include the adjacent monastery and various points within the church, like the second chapel on the right in the presbytery. The painting in the Madonnina belongs to Bastianino's later period, although it is not yet in his rapid, fully mature style in which the image is blurred by the unmistakable smoky atmosphere.

The compositional space occupied by the hermit saint is highly compressed, especially his monumental figure, characterized by the way in which the limbs are made to serve as perspectival elements. The saint, immersed in solitary meditation, is not solely a pictorial element, but acquires a considerable sculptural significance that overshadows the traditional attributes, which seem to be thrust almost beyond the borders of the painting. His only companions are the animals of the desert and the faithful lion from whose paw Jerome is said to have removed a thorn, which together with the cardinal's hat are the most frequent attributes.

Even after Piero Tranchina's skilful cleaning, the painting has retained a hazy atmosphere dispelled only by the warm luminosity of the crimson lake of the cardinal's cape and hat.
Now, after the demanding restoration effort, and now that all necessary safeguards have been adopted, the panel can be returned to its original place, as part of the tribute to Bastianino promoted by the Fondazione.

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