The Power of Absolution: Conclusion

Lara Belfield

The St. Mary Magdalen and St. Jerome exemplify Bernini’s ability to convey emotion and complex movement through sculpture.  His decision to disembark from the traditional depictions of each saint is a testament to his innovative talents.  Bernini’s St. Mary Magdalen strikes a symbolic balance between the wealthy woman who followed and supported Jesus and the penitent worshipper who sacrificed worldly goods to atone for her sins.  Similarly, the artist’s St. Jerome conveys a powerful emotion that disrupts the common imagery of the saint as a peaceful scholar.

Each saint was well-known in Bernini’s time as a symbolic figure for forgiveness and absolution.  Their common attributes, including the jar for Mary Magdalen and the lion for St. Jerome, made them easily recognizable to the public.  Depictions of St. Mary Magdalen and St. Jerome permeated Christian imagery well before and after Bernini’s work in the Chigi Chapel.  Mary Magdalen was typically shown either dressed in finery to represent her wealthy status, or clothed in rags after years of hermitage in the desert after her conversion.  Jerome is often seen studying the Gospels in order to show his status as a scholar, or in the desert after his self-imposed exile.  Bernini’s decision to show each saint during their religious visions and conversions represents his desire to show movement and powerful emotion.