Saturday, September 05, 2009

The Virgin and St Jerome

Francesco Fontebasso 1707-1769
The Virgin Mary Appears to St Jerome
Oil on canvas, 30 x 22 cm
Museum of Fine Arts, Szépművészeti Múzeum , Budapest, Hungary

Francesco Fontebasso was one of the most prolific and well known followers of Sebastiano Ricci, with whom he had his earliest training, and also of Giambattista Tiepolo

Fontebasso was a renowned fresco painter, and received many important commissions from both within Italy and abroad. Indeed, from 1761 - 62, he worked in St. Petersburg for Catherine II, Empress of Russia. Before he left for St. Petersburg, in 1755, he became a founder-member of the Accademia Veneziana, of which he was appointed president in 1768.

Fontebasso interpreted the theme of the Holy Virgin accompanied by angels appearing to the penitent St Jerome in the desert on a number of occasions

In this version, St Jerome  finally finds peace in death, lying on the matting with a cross on his breast.

St Jerome had a great devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

He wrote:

"My virginity is dedicated in Mary and to Christ. ...

Death came through Eve, but life has come through Mary. ...

Set before you the blessed Mary, whose surpassing purity made her meet to be the mother of the Lord. When the angel Gabriel came down to her, in the form of a man, and said: Hail, you that art highly favored; the Lord is with you, Luke 1:28 she was terror-stricken and unable to reply, for she had never been saluted by a man before. But, on learning who he was, she spoke, and one who had been afraid of a man conversed fearlessly with an angel. Now you, too, may be the Lord's mother. ...

Emerge, I pray you, for a while from your prison-house, and paint before your eyes the reward of your present toil, a reward which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man. 1 Corinthians 2:9 What will be the glory of that day when Mary, the mother of the Lord, shall come to meet you, accompanied by her virgin choirs! "
(St. Jerome, Ep. 22, 21: PL 22, 408.)

He wrote on the perpetual virginity of the Virgin Mary.

He wrote strongly on perpetual virginity and permanent chastity. His writings abound on this subject.

Of Jesus`s words: "All men take not his word, but they to whom it is given. . . He that can take it, let him take it.", (Matth. XIX, 11, 12.), St Jerome wrote:

"that each one study his own powers, whether he can fulfill the precepts of virginal modesty. For of itself chastity is charming and attractive to all. But one's forces must be considered, that he who can may take it. The Lord's word is as it were an exhortation, stirring on His soldiers to the prize of purity. He that can take it, let him take it: let him who can, fight, conquer and receive his reward." (S. Hieronym, Comment. in Matth., XIX, 12; PL XXVI, 136.)

Of perfect chastity St Jerome said:

"It is given to those, (Cf. Matth. XIX, 11) who have asked for it, who have desired it, who have worked to receive it. For it will be given to everyone who asks, the seeker will find, to the importunate it will be opened." (S. Hieron., Comm. in Matth. XIX, 11; PL XXVI,135)

To preserve chastity, St Jerome counselled that flight from occasions of sin was better than direct confrontation:

"Therefore I flee, lest I be overcome." (S. Hieronym., Contra Vigilant., 16; PL XXIII, 352)