JEAN DUCAMPS called Giovanni del Campo
Cambrai c. 1600 – Spain after 1638

St. Jerome

Oil on Canvas
96 by 131 cms

Inscribed, on the reverse of the original canvas in a Seicento hand, No. 46, and S M D C in capital letters.

French Caravaggism really comes into play with the Bentvueghels,  established around 1620 in Rome, and Ducamps’s important role in the society was obviously matched by a stylistic input that was felt by other Northerners. The enthusiasm of Vincenzo Giustiniani, Scipione Borghese and the Barberini family for the inventive observation of French painters like Vouet, Regnier and Valentin – leading figures among the foreign artists in the city – gave those of them who were capable of large religious subjects a new role in the 1620s. Regnier was engaged as a resident artist in Palazzo Giustiniani, until he married in1623, Valentin gained patronage from Cardinal Mazarin, Vouet was promoted by Cardinal Del Monte to paint for the Franciscans at San Francesco a Ripa, and then elected to succeed Gramatica as Principe of the Accademia di San Luca. The subject-matter of the Evangelists done by Valentin around 1625 (at Versailles, from the collection of Louis XIV) reveals how much the French painter was recalling Caravaggio’s own pictures, for example the St Jerome in the collection of Scipione Borghese. Vouet equally made use of the same models in works like the National Gallery, Washington St Jerome and the Angel (painted for Taddeo Barberini) and altogether the artistic climate favoured the bravura brushwork so well exemplified here.

It is not quite clear when the artist arrived in Rome, but it must have been at the critical time when the Bentvueghels society was formed, and there does seem to have been a studio where these French and Dutch colleagues shared models and developed the impressive figurative style that emerges in these years, affecting a whole generation of painters who came to the city. The facility of expressing form through direct brushwork, with no preparatory drawing, is especially notable in this picture. Passages like the feet and hands, the nipples and the hairs on the chest, show sensitivity to observed form that is startling even among the revelations of other Caravaggesque painters, who were also competing with the facility of invention that Lanfranco was already showing. The ease with which the shadows convey the fingers and the recession of the hand against the forearm demonstrates the confidence with which this artist took on the challenge of a new impression of this Father of the Church. It is a theme that many painters of this generation attempted, from Ribera’s example[1] done in Rome probably for Giulio Mancini, to the one of the saint hearing the Angel of Judgement sounding the Last Trumpet (done soon after his arrival  in Naples for the Duque de Osuna, and now in the Collegiata, Osuna). Claude Vignon, the Parisian painter who is also represented in this exhibition, demonstrates his greatest fluency in paintings of this kind in Rome, and clearly was led by his colleagues to do variations on this theme, illustrated by the engraving by Fréminet[2] . There was a tendency to look at the Caravaggesque works of other painters too: the composition of this work by Ducamps recalls the complex pose of the legs of St Peter and St Paul in Guido Reni’s painting in the Brera, Milan. But it is definitely a style in which the observed light cast from a single source, the ‘lume unito’ that Mancini refers to as being the modus operandi of the schola of Caravaggio.

Ducamps’s role as a model for other Northern artists is evident from pictures by Matthias Stomer, Hendrick van Somer and Hendrick Bloemaert. Dr Cecilia Grilli, who suggested from a photograph that the present work is by the latter, has drawn comparisons with the painting of the same theme in the Harrach Gallery, Schloss Rohrau (M. Roethlisberger, Abarham Bloemaert and his Sons, 1993, I, p. 454, II, H28. Bloemaert was in Rome in the 1620s, and was evidently influenced by the kind of subjects Ducamps excelled in, and the Caravaggesque idiom with a diagonal shadow across the back wall appears as a kind of trade mark of the setting in which these pictures were created. The community of artists around Ribera, Valentin, Vouet, Vignon, Baburen and Honthorst were trying deliberately to reconstruct the master’s working practice, not just with the reading of chiaroscuro. His figure mezze strapazzate, forms read in terms of the shadpw generated by a parallel beam of light, are complemented by employing the rapid impressions of form that could be completely convincing if the artist had an intuitive grasp of the image in two-dimensional terms. The fluency of building up fleshtones is a reminder that Rubens and Van Dyck were also of the same company, benefiting from the new interpretation of the real world that Caravaggio had introduced.

The subject is the moment described by St Jerome himself, as recalled by Geoffrey Chaucer (Canterbury Tales, ed. Courier, 2004, p. 481) “Every time I remember the day of doom I quake, for when I eat or drink or do whatever thing, ever it seems to me that the trump sounds in my ear, bidding the dead arise and come to judgement.


[1] N. Spinosa, Jusepe de Ribera, 2003, Cat. A2, Private collection Toronto

[2] See P. Pacht Bassani, Claude Vignon, 1993 Cat . No. 112 G.