Vatican Museums Shares Mission With St. Jerome Painting at Met


An unfinished masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci, the painting “St. Jerome Praying in the Wilderness,” was the subject of a special lecture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan last week.

Dr. Barbara Jatta, director of the Vatican Museums, discussed the painting at the evening event Sept. 20, which drew approximately 600. The work of art is on special loan from the Vatican Museums through Sunday, Oct. 6. The exhibit opened in mid-July.

Cardinal Dolan was among the invited guests. Seated alongside him was Archbishop Bernardito Auza, apostolic nuncio to the United Nations. The Met is commemorating the 500th anniversary of Da Vinci’s death.

“It is an honor and a pleasure for me to be here tonight,” Dr. Jatta said at the start of her lecture and slideshow presentation. “The Vatican Museums is a system of museums…And today this painting (has led) to all of us being gathered here. It is the only painting of Master Da Vinci’s in the collection of the pope, and the only one of Leonardo in Rome.

“The occasion of the 500th anniversary of the death of the artist provides us the opportunity to tell the story and the vicissitude surrounding his work,” she said. “The mission of the Vatican Museums is to present, preserve and share the extraordinary legacy of culture, history, beauty and faith that Roman pontiffs have collected and preserved for centuries.”

After her lecture, Dr. Jatta told CNY, “We really wanted to share our treasures of art and history, and of faith, with the American public. Thanks to the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums we were able to do that here in New York at The Met, with the blessings of Cardinal Dolan. So we are very happy about it. In two weeks we will be in Paris…The Vatican has always been like that, sharing our mission.”

Dr. Jatta’s lecture and slideshow presentation was also an overview of the Vatican Museums and its vast collection of roughly 17,000 works of art housed in 54 galleries, including the Sistine Chapel.

She was introduced by Max Hollein, director of The Met, who noted “the display of this monumental masterpiece pays homage to one of the most renowned geniuses of all time.”

The St. Jerome painting is on display in the Upper Level of the Robert Lehman Wing in Gallery 955, spotlighted in a darkened, curtained section.

Dr. Jatta spoke about how “St. Jerome Praying in the Wilderness” (begun circa 1483) is considered an exquisitely rendered work that represents Jerome (A.D. 347-420), a major saint and theologian of the Christian Church. The scene of the masterpiece is based on the story of St. Jerome’s later life, which he spent as a hermit in the desert.

She also spoke about how the unfinished painting provides viewers with what experts describe as an extraordinary glimpse into Da Vinci’s creative process, and how a close examination of the paint surface reveals the presence of the Italian artist’s fingerprints.

The St. Jerome exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art was organized with the collaboration of the Vatican Museums. The exhibition is made possible by the New York Chapter of The Patrons of The Arts in The Vatican Museums, and the Placido Arango Fund.

“St. Jerome Praying in the Wilderness” is oil on wood, 40.5 inches by 29.25 inches.

Da Vinci was born in Italy in April 1452 and died in France in May 1519 at age 67.