New World, Spanish Colonial, Mexico, ca. late 18th to early 19th century CE. A beautiful depiction of one of the scholarly saints, this is a carved wood santo of St. Jerome. Standing atop a pedestal with a now illegible word in a winged scroll, the figure is posed in a lifelike manner, with one knee forward. He holds a book and wears a red cloak over a blue tunic. At his feet are a dog and a lamb. A worshipper has given him a dried gourd on a string. Size: 5.5" L x 9.75" W x 23.375" H (14 cm x 24.8 cm x 59.4 cm)
The pedestal is painted a pale blue and cream and the dominant colors of the santo are pastels, emphasizing its Rococo/Late Baroque style.
St. Jerome (ca. 347 to 420 CE), the protégé of Pope Damasus I, is known for his teachings on Christian moral life, especially his teachings on how women should live in order to devote themselves to Christ. He was a scholar and a Biblical translator, and is frequently depicted as such, particularly in Renaissance and later artwork such as "St. Jerome in His Study" (1480) by Domenico Ghirlandaio and "Saint Jerome in His Study" (1514) by Albrecht Durer. He is also often shown in the garb of a medieval cardinal, with the brimmed hat that he is wearing here.
In the Durer woodcut, Saint Jerome is depicted with a pear-shaped gourd very similar to the one a worshipper has placed around his neck here - a curious symbol that requires explanation. During his lifetime, Jerome debated with St. Augustine over the translation of a word in the Bible for a fast-growing plant used to describe Christ, in English translated as "I am the Vine, you are the branches" (John 15:5). Jerome wished to translate it as "gourd". Although Augustine's translation won out, the gourd remains a symbol of Jerome as a memorial to his courage and learning.
Jerome is also often shown being kind to animals - a reference to the story of him helping a lion by removing a thorn from its paw. The dog at his feet is a symbol of loyalty, while the lamb is a symbol of Christ.
Santos played an important role in bringing the Catholic Church to the New World with the Spanish colonists. These religious figures were hand-carved and often furnished with crowns, jewels, and other accessories, usually funded by religious devotees, and were used as icons to explain the major figures - Mary, Christ, and the saints - to new, indigenous converts. Likewise, they served as a connection to the Old World for Spanish colonists far from home. They became a folk art tradition in the Spanish New World, from modern day Guatemala to as far north as New Mexico and Colorado. Many of them were lovingly cared for over the years, with repairs and paint added as they aged, and played an active part for a long time in the religious life of their communities.
Provenance: Ex-Francis & Lilly Robicsek Collection, Charlotte, NC
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