Visions of Jerome

Visions are strongly associated with Jerome, though it is necessary to tread with caution. Only one is described by Jerome himself, and the Latin word somnium can refer to a vision, or just a straightforward dream. Having said that, could it be that extreme ascetism, such as Jerome underwent in the desert, can create a mental state in which visions (or if you will, hallucinations) are more likely to happen? 
  This is Jerome's dream in his own words, and two images drawn from it.

Many years ago, when for the kingdom of heaven's sake I had cut  myself off from home, parents, sister, relations, and - harder  still - from the dainty food to which I had been accustomed; and when I was on my way to Jerusalem to wage my warfare, I still could not bring myself to forego the library which I had formed for myself at Rome with  great care and toil. And so, miserable man that I was, I would fast  only that I might afterwards read Cicero. After many nights spent in  vigil, after floods of tears called from my inmost heart, after the recollection of my past sins, I would once more take up Plautus. And when at times I returned to my right mind, and began to read the   prophets, their style seemed rude and repellent. I failed to see the light with my blinded eyes; but I attributed the fault not to them, but  to the sun. While the old serpent was thus making me his plaything, about the middle of Lent a deep-seated fever fell upon my weakened body, and while it destroyed my rest completely - the story seems hardly credible - it so wasted my unhappy frame that scarcely anything was left  of me but skin and bone. Meantime preparations for my funeral went on;  my body grew gradually colder, and the warmth of life lingered only in  my throbbing breast. Suddenly I was caught up in the spirit and dragged  before the judgement seat of the Judge; and here the light was so bright, and those who stood around were so radiant, that I cast myself  upon the ground and did not dare to look up. Asked who and what I was I replied: "I am a Christian." But He who presided said: "Thou liest,  thou art a follower of Cicero and not of Christ. For where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also.'"  Instantly I became dumb, and amid the strokes of the lash - for He had ordered me to be scourged - I was tortured more severely still by the fire of conscience, considering with myself that verse, "In the grave who shall give thee thanks?"  Yet for all that I began to cry and to bewail myself, saying:  "Have mercy upon me, O Lord: have mercy upon me." Amid the sound of the scourges this cry still made itself heard. At last the bystanders, falling down before the knees of Him who presided, prayed that He would have pity on my youth, and that He would give me space to repent of my error. He might still, they urged, inflict torture on me, should I ever again read the works of the Gentiles. Under the stress of that awful moment I should have been ready to make even still larger promises than these. Accordingly I made oath and called upon His name, saying: "Lord, if ever again I possess worldly books, or if ever again I read such, I  have denied Thee." Dismissed, then, on taking this oath, I returned to the upper world, and, to the surprise of all, I opened upon them eyes so drenched with tears that my distress served to convince even the incredulous. And that this was no sleep nor idle dream, such as those by which we are often mocked, I call to witness the tribunal before which I lay, and the terrible judgement which I feared. May it never, hereafter, be my lot to fall under such an inquisition! I profess that my shoulders were black and blue, that I felt the bruises long after I awoke from my sleep, and that thenceforth I read the books of God with a zeal greater than I had previously given to the books of men.'
(Letter 22 To Eustochium)

    A guilt trip, then about reading classical (pagan) literature when he should have been reading the bible.

Vision of St Jerome -Sano di Pietro
The Louvre, Paris

Vision of St Jerome - Bernardino Mei
Private collection

   A second vision, that of  the Trinity, is almost certainly drawn from
the Regula Monachorum, (rules for monks) a text once thought to be by Jerome but which was later shown to be apocryphal. Jerome supposedly describes his desert experiences to Eustochium:

    I have often been among the angelic choirs; for weeks at a time, feeling no corporeal sensation, I have seen with the sight of divine vision; after many days, foreknowing things to come, I returned to myself and wept.
    But how perfect was my happiness there! How unspeakable my delight! My witness is the Trinity itself, which I saw, I know not with what kind of sight. 
The saint on the right (Paula?) appears to be carrying a flail draped over her shoulder. This, along with the image of Jerome, has led to suggestions that the painting was commissioned by a flagellant community. Is this painting a lesson in how to evoke visions?

Vision of the Trinity - Andrea del Castagno
Fresco, Santissima Annunziata, Florence

   Another frequent 'vision' image is of an angel blowing a trumpet; there is one in Mei's painting (above). Guercino's vision (below) shows another. Warning blasts of judgement to come were a preoccupation for Jerome. Here is an extract from a letter by Jerome to a soldier who's clearly not doing his stuff:

   Pampered soldier, why are you wasting time in your father's house? Where is the rampart, the ditch, the winter campaign under canvas? Behold the trumpet sounds from heaven! Our General, fully armed, comes amid the clouds to overcome the world. From our King's mouth comes the double-edged sword that cuts down all in its path. Are you going to remain in your chamber and not come out to join in the battle? 
(Letter 14) 

Vision of St Jerome
Museo della Cittą, Rimini

This painting by Parmigianino is sometimes entitled 'Vision of St Jerome' and sometimes 'Madonna and Child with Saints.'  The clue, surely, is that Jerome is fast asleep, even though John the Baptist isn't. There doesn't appear to be any clear reference to a vision of the Madonna in Jerome's writings, although her perpetual virginity was an important idea to him. 
    It appears that the family commissioning the picture, the Bufalini's, wanted a Madonna and Child picture, and felt that Jerome (who trained as a lawyer) was an appropriate saint to include to represent the family, who were lawyers. 

National Gallery, London

Dreams (I hesitate to say 'visions') of a more earthy nature are described on the page relating to Jerome's time in the desert. 

St. Jerome Index 
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