Removed by the French to the Alcázar in Seville; recorded there in 1810 (in room 2 as 'Saint Jerome disputing with some heretics', or in room 10 as one of 'four episodes from the life of Saint Jerome');
Restored to San Jerónimo in 1812, after the expulsion of the French from Seville;
Whence acquired after 1835 by Baron Isidore Taylor (1789–1879) for
King Louis-Philippe I (1773–1850), and hung in the Spanish Gallery at the Musée Royal du Louvre, Paris (either as no. 280 Discussion de saint Jérôme avec les rabbins; or as no. 281 Discussion de saint Jérôme avec les docteurs);
His posthumous sale ('Pictures forming the celebrated Spanish Gallery of His Majesty the late King Louis Philippe'), London, Christie's, 6 May 1853 and subsequent days, 13 May 1853 (3rd day's sale), either lot 234, for £40, or lot 235, for £28 (both as St Jerome disputing with the Rabbis);
John Samuel Wanley Sawbridge Erle Drax, MP (1800–1887), Olantigh Towers, Wye, Kent;
By inheritance to his nephew Wanley Elias Sawbridge Erle-Drax;
By whom sold ('Old Pictures collected by the late J.S.W.S. Erle Drax. Esq.'), London, Christie's, 19 February 1910, lot 128 (as Saint Jerome disputing with the Rabbis, 90 in. by 97 in.), for £7.7s.0d., to Wagner;
By whom sold on 1 September 1910 to
Josef Cremer (1845–1938), Dortmund; listed as no. 940, hanging in the Neuer Galerie (as Jerome with the Rabbis);
Offered in the posthumous sale of Cremer's collection, ('Sammlung Geheimrat Josef Cremer Dortmund'), Berlin, Wertheimer, 29 May 1929, lot 145 (as St Jerome and the Rabbis);
Thence by family descent.
F. Arana de Varflora, Compendio histórico descriptivo de la muy noble y muy leal ciudad de Sevilla metrópoli de Andaluciá, Seville 1781, p. 46;
J.A. Ceán Bermudez, Diccíonario histórico de los mas ilustres profesores de las bellas artes en España, Madrid 1800, ed. 1965, vol. V, p. 114;
M. Gómez Imaz, Inventario de los Cuadros sustraídos por el gobierno intruso en Sevilla el año de 1810, Seville 1896, p. 65: '[Sala baja N.o 2] Orig.s de D. Juan de Valdes, no. 87 Un quadro de 2 3/4 v.s de ancho y 2 1/2 de alto, San Gerónimo disputando con unos hereges'; or p. 77: '[Sala n.o 10] Orig.s de D. J.n de Valdes, no. 282 [one of] Quatro quadros de 2 3/4 de ancho, y 2 1/2 de alto varios pasages de la vida de S.n Geronimo';1
F. González de León, Noticia artística, histórica, y curiosa de todos los edificios... de Sevilla..., Seville 1844, vol. II, p. 245;
Notice des Tableaux de la Galerie Espagnole, exposés dans les salles du Musée Royal au Louvre, Paris 1838, p. 71 (either as no. 280 Discussion de saint Jérôme avec les rabbins; or as no. 281 Discussion de saint Jérôme avec les docteurs);
A.B. Jameson, Sacred and Legendary Art, London 1848 (and subsequent eds), vol. I, p. 279;
P. Lefort, 'Juan de Valdes Leal', Histoire des peintres de toutes les écoles, Ecole espagnole, Paris 1869, p. 235 and p. 239 (as St Jerome disputing with the Rabbis for £40; or St Jerome disputing with the Doctors for £28);
H. Voss, Collection Geh. Kommerzienrat Cremer, Dortmund, Dortmund 1914, 3 vols, Text vol., p. 51 (as no. 940, Saint Jerome and the Rabbis);
J. Gestoso y Pérez, Biografiá del pintor sevillano: Juan de Valdés Leal, Seville 1916, pp. 41–50, 210–211 and p. 224, n. 4;
V. von Loga, Die Malerei in Spanien, Berlin 1923, pp. 351–52 (as Disputation with the heretics; lot 234 in the Louis-Philippe sale);
A.L. Mayer, Historia de la pintura española, Madrid 1928, p. 330 (as Disputation with the pagan doctors);
Sammlung Geheimrat Josef Cremer, Dortmund, Berlin 1929, p. 210, no. 145, reproduced on opposite page (as Saint Jerome and the Rabbis);
A. Gaya Nuño, La pintura española fuera de España, Madrid 1958, p. 26 and p. 312, no. 2751 (as Saint Jerome and the Heretics);
E. du Gué Trapier, Valdés Leal, Spanish Baroque Painter, New York 1960, p. 11, reproduced in black and white as fig. 19 (as Saint Jerome and the Pagan Doctors);
D. Angulo Iñiguez, 'Pintura del siglo XVII', in Ars Hispaniae, vol. 15, 1971, pp. 371 and 373;
D.T. Kinkead, Juan de Valdés Leal (1622–1690), His Life and Work, New York and London 1978, pp. 106, 112–13, and 361–63, no. 43 (as Saint Jerome disputing the Pagan Doctors (?));
E. Valdivieso, Historia de la pintura sevillana, Seville 1986, p. 265;
E. Valdivieso, Juan de Valdés Leal, Seville 1988, pp. 78 and 235, no. 40, reproduced in black and white (as Saint Jerome disputing with the Doctors).
Commissioned for the Hieronymite monastery of San Jerónimo de Buenavista, outside of Seville, this painting is part of a set of six works depicting episodes from the life of St Jerome, executed in 1657. Founded in the early fifteenth century, Buenavista, once a thriving monastic establishment, has long since lost its original function. It once housed the monks of the Order of Saint Jerome, the Hieronymites, whose lives were inspired by the fifth-century hermit and biblical scholar, Jerome, one of the four Latin Fathers of the Church and among the most eloquent orators of his time. The principal group of this order was founded in Spain in the fourteenth century.
The present work was painted soon after the artist’s return in 1656 to his native city of Seville, following a decade spent working mainly in Córdoba. Except for a few short trips, Valdés Leal was to remain in Seville for the rest of his life and it was there that he made his most important work. The commission from the Hieronymite monastery marked his first success in the city. It consisted of the set of scenes from the life of St Jerome, as well as single life-size depictions of monks and saints of the Hieronymite Order. The series inspired by the life of Saint Jerome originally comprised six large canvases, all of the same dimensions, depicting the following episodes: The Baptism of Saint Jerome; The Temptation of Saint Jerome; The Scourging of Saint Jerome; Saint Jerome disputing with the pagans; Saint Jerome disputing with the rabbis; and The Death of Saint Jerome. Of the series of single Hieronymite figures from the same commission, one of the finest, which must have commanded a central position in relation to the rest of the cycle, is his representation of Saint Jerome in cardinal's robes, an imposing painting now at the Prado, Madrid.2 It is not possible to reconstruct the original arrangement of the canvases on the walls of the sacristy at Buenavista.
The paintings were dispersed in the nineteenth-century, following their removal from the monastery by the French. Of the six, three were acquired by the city of Seville after the exclaustration of 1835 and are now in the Museo de Bellas Artes: The Baptism of Saint Jerome, signed and dated 1657; The Temptation of Saint Jerome, also signed and dated 1657; and The Scourging of Saint Jerome, datable to the same year. Two are no longer extant: one of the scenes of Saint Jerome disputing and The Death of Saint Jerome. This canvas is the last recorded extant painting from the series. It is one of only two episodes – both scenes of the saint disputing – known to have left Spain and to have entered the French royal collection, where it probably formed a pendant to its counterpart.
In this painting, Saint Jerome, on the left of the composition, is seated at a table, quill pen in hand, poised to dip it into an inkpot, while two monks of the Hieronymite order stand behind his chair. Their religious habit, as depicted here, is a white tunic with a brown, hooded scapular and a brown mantle. Learned doctors in elaborate robes and headdresses congregate in the background. Facing the saint to the right of the composition stands a man disputing from an open book. He may represent the Chief Rabbi but certain identification is hindered by the somewhat fanciful dress. The building seen beyond the arch is probably a church.
The subject does not form part of the historiography of Saint Jerome. Valdés Leal chose to paint a moment of intellectual confrontation. The originality of his conception lies in translating Jerome’s famous epistolary disputations into a vivid scene of live debate between Jerome and other learned men. Duncan Kinkead proposed that inspiration for this may have come from an unusual painting by Juan Gómez for the Escorial, part of his series on the life of Jerome, in which the saint is shown seated at the head of a table absorbed in writing words of advice for those who turn to him. In this painting Valdés Leal conveys the intensity of the narrative by placing Jerome and his main detractor in opposition. The former is seated, the latter stands. Between them is a table covered in a vivid red cloth. Valdés Leal has reserved the use of white – now somewhat obscured by discoloured varnish – to two areas on opposite sides of the picture: for Jerome’s robe and for the open pages of his adversary’s book. The artist’s depiction of life-size figures adds to the drama of a scene in which a war of words is conveyed by the composition’s construction.
The inventory of 1810 drawn up in Seville by Antonio de Aloza records all six paintings formerly at Buenavista although by that date they were no longer displayed together as a set. Four were grouped in the ‘Sala n.o 10’, as no. 282, with the generic description ‘four pictures two and three-quarters varas wide and two-and-a-half high of various episodes from the life of Saint Jerome’, while the other two, also with the same dimensions, were displayed in the ‘Sala baja n.o 2’, as nos 87 and 88, their subjects specified as: ‘Saint Jerome disputing with the heretics' and '[...] the death of the said saint'.3 As the other scene of St Jerome's disputation is lost (according to Augusto Mayer it was last recorded in Barcelona on the art market in 1913),4 and in the absence of further evidence, the title given in the inventory – ‘Saint Jerome disputing with the heretics – can be linked only tentatively to the present picture.
The difficulty in distinguishing between the two paintings arises again in 1853 in the catalogue of the sale of pictures from King Louis-Philippe’s Spanish Gallery, where two works – no. 234 and no. 235 – were given the same title: ‘Saint Jerome disputing with the Rabbis’. Lot 234, which sold for £40, was the more expensive of the two; lot 235 fetched £28. Valerian von Loga, writing in 1923, records lot 234 as the painting later in Josef Cremer's collection. Already there was some ambiguity over the subjects when the paintings were hanging in the Musée royal du Louvre, between 1838 and 1853. The Notice des Tableaux of 1838, which lists the works on display in the Louvre's Spanish Gallery, adopted two different titles for nos 281 and 282 respectively: ‘Discussion de saint Jérôme aves les rabbins’ and ‘Discussion de saint Jérôme avec les docteurs’. The dimensions are of no help in distinguishing them since both canvases are listed with identical measurements. The subject of one of the two paintings is described by the mid-nineteenth-century writer on religious iconography Anna Brownell Jameson, author of Sacred and Legendary Art, a work first published in 1848 and then reissued in numerous editions. In her discussion of images of St Jerome, Jameson refers to various depictions of St Jerome, among them one on display in the Spanish Gallery: ‘He disputes with the Jewish doctors on the truth of the Christian religion’; a curious picture, by Juan de Valdes [sic]. He stands on one side of a table in an attitude of authority: the rabbi are searching their books for arguments against him; each has a demon looking over his shoulder.’5 Were it not for the description of the saint as standing, these words might well apply to the present picture, particularly with regard to the staring face at the far right.
A handwritten label on the reverse of the canvas offers a clue to the picture's history between 1853 and 1910 when it is next recorded in the Cremer Collection (fig. 00). The label, which is written in English probably by its new owner, is inscribed: 'B[ough]t at the Sale of Pictures belonging to the [...] / King of the French Louis Philippe / May 1853'.6 An annotation in a copy of the Notice des Tableaux of 1838 reads 'Drax' with the sale date 19 February 1910.7 The sale in question was that of John Samuel Wanley Sawbridge Erle Drax (1800–1887). Erle Drax, grandson of John Sawbridge (Lord Mayor of London in 1775), was Conservative MP for Wareham. In 1828 he married Jane Frances Erle-Drax-Grosvenor (d. 1853) and succeeded to her family estates, which included Charborough House in Dorset, and assumed her surname. Much of his buying activity is recorded in the 1850s when he bought nearly one hundred paintings at the sale of Lord Northwick’s collection held over several days in July and August 1859 at Thirlestane House, Cheltenham. He was also an active buyer at the 1853 Louis-Phillippe sale, where he acquired this picture. In the 1850s Erle Drax made substantial alterations to Olantigh, his Georgian family mansion in Kent, which became known as Olantigh Towers. The collection comprised more than 270 paintings displayed in the galleries there. The 1910 sale was by order of Erle Drax’s nephew and heir Wanley Elias Sawbridge Erle Drax and took place at Christie’s on 19 and 21 February. A few years before, a fire had ravaged Olantigh; perhaps the rebuilding costs precipitated the sale. A saleroom report published in a newspaper after the auction describes Drax as follows: ‘He bought frugally and in cold blood… At Thirlstane House Cheltenham in 1859 he bought about 100 choice examples from Lord Northwick’s collection […] in 1853, too, he had been a large purchaser at the sale of Louis Philippe’s Claremont pictures, and in his day generally he was known as a lonely roamer round country sales, buying as he pleased, without counsel or conversation’. Judging from the sale catalogue, nearly half of the collection consisted of Italian pictures, but it was the Dutch and Flemish cabinet paintings that were singled out for particular praise. Of the Spanish works sold on the first day of the sale, the highest prices were fetched by works attributed to Murillo and Zurbaran. Lot 128, the Valdés Leal, sold for £7.7s.0d., to Wagner, from whom Josef Cremer bought it in September that same year (fig. 00). The Disputation of Saint Jerome has remained in the Cremer collection ever since.
Contemporary commentary on Valdés Leal's Hieronymite paintings in situ is scant.8 Palomino does not mention them and Ponz states only that ‘different paintings’ by Valdés are in the sacristy of the monastery. The 1810 inventory of the paintings removed from Sevillian churches by the French and gathered in the Alcázar in Seville serves as a valuable record not only of this series but also of all 999 paintings that were moved there for Joseph Bonaparte. The plan to install the paintings in Madrid in a national museum remained unfulfilled. Half of the set of Hieronymite narratives remained in Seville and were returned to the sacristy at Buenavista before eventually becoming part of the city's art collection; the others found their way to France. Of these, The Disputation of Saint Jerome – the last one known to have survived – is among the finest examples of Sevillian High Baroque to remain in private hands.
1. 1896 (ed.), p. 65: [In room 2] under 'Original works by Juan de Valdes', no. 87 'A picture two-and-three-quarters varas wide and two-and-a-half high, Saint Jerome disputing with some heretics'; or p. 77: [in room 10] under 'Original works by Juan de Valdes', no. 282 '[one of] four pictures two-and-three-quarters varas wide and two-and-a-half high of various episodes from the life of Saint Jerome'.
2. P02593; oil on canvas, 252 x 133 cm.; reproduced in colour in Valdés Leal, E. Valdivieso (ed.), exh. cat., Museo del Prado, Madrid, and Junta de Andalucía, Seville, 1991, p. 109, no. 20.
3. Gómez Imaz 1896 (ed.), nos 87, 88 and 282. In the 'Sala Baja N.o 2', no. 87: 'San Gerónimo disputando con unos hereges; no. 88: Otro de igual tamaño, la muerte de dho. Santo’.
4. Mayer 1928, p. 330.
5. Jameson 1848, vol. I, p. 279.
6. The label is annotated in the top right corner with ‘Lot 234’, the last digit of which appears to have been changed, so that the number can also be read as 'Lot 235', thereby adding to the uncertainty over which of the two pictures in that sale was later to enter the Cremer collection and the price paid for it at auction.
7. The Getty Research Institute.
8. Kinkead 1978, p. 353.
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