Christian van Donck is a mystifying painter: nearly nothing is known about him, except for his representations of St Jerome and of Vanitas subjects. He might have been active in Amsterdam in the third quarter of the 17th century.
Here we see St Jerome, author of the official version of the Latin Bible of the Catholic Church, contemplating about the fate of humanity.
I would like to thank Professor Marwan Rashed from the Sorbonne University of Paris for attending our attention to the fact that globes are extremely rare in representations of St Jerome in his study.
About Christian van Donck
Dated works known between 1653 and 1678
Although several signed and even some dated paintings are known by van Donck, there is no information what so ever upon this mysterious painter.
He seemed to have loved the figure of St Jerome and other Vanitas subjects, he had a particular interest in representing jewellery and precious metal objects. He seems to have stood close to Salomon Koninck (Amsterdam 1609 – 1656 Amsterdam).
About Saint Jerome
Stridon (near present-day Ljubljana) circa 347 – 420 near Bethlehem
Catholic saint, doctor of the church and one of the four Latin church fathers, with Saint Augustine, Saint Ambrose and Pope Gregory I.
Author of the definitive and officially promulgated Latin version of the Bible of the Roman Catholic Church, the so-called Vulgate, which he translated from the Hebrew and from the Greek. Saint Jerome is one of the most voluminous writes of ancient Latin Christianity, second only to Saint Augustine.
About Erasmus’ St Jerome
The Dutch Humanist scholar Erasmus (Rotterdam 1466 – 1536 Basel) had sought to demystify saints, especially Saint Jerome: he wrote a new biography of our saint (based on Jerome’s own letters and publications) and he also wrote two new critical publications of the New Testament: the ‘original’ Greek version and his translation into Latin, for he thought Saint Jerome had not completely correctly translated it. Because St Jerome had translated the bible and thus because of his knowledge of several languages, his erudition and his intelligence St Jerome became the model for 16th century Renaissance Humanists. Our painter has followed this habit from the second half of the 16th century to depict St Jerome no longer as a Roman saint, but as a real man, as a scholar in his study, amidst a multitude of objects.
Saint Jerome is reflecting upon the faith of man, upon the transitoriness of everything. The skull, the hour glass and the globe refer to the theme of Vanitas, they add to the meditation of death and the ephemeral character of life. The skull represents the seat of thought, and also symbolized spiritual perfection. Death of the physical enabled one to be reborn at a higher level at which the spirit could rule.
The pen and the inkwell refer to Saint Jerome’s translation of the bible, while the presence of the sacred books and texts seems intended to recall invariability and continuity. Saint Jerome, known for his knowledge and wisdom, could understand the mysteries of the universe.
Why should you buy this painting?
Because it has a profound philosophical message.