Bernardo Zenale - inv. 1619

Bernardo Zenale (c. 1464-1526)

Saint Ambrose
diameter 40 cm
1879 bequest Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli
Inv. 1619

Lombard Rooms
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This work is linked to Saint Jerome (inv. 1623).

The tondos are in quite good condition.
Zenale portrays two Doctors of the Church – as the greatest theologians of ancient Christianity are called – with their traditional attributes: Ambrose is wearing episcopal vestments and the bishop’s mitre and is holding a scourge, the symbol of his fight against Arian heresy. Jerome is wearing cardinal’s red robes and hat and he is holding an open book, referring to his work as translator of the Bible.
The depiction of the four greatest Latin theologians (generally Augustine and Gregory are with Jerome and Ambrose) in tondos was common in Italian art. Milanese painting has left numerous examples, both on wood or in fresco, as the contemporary four paintings of the Lombard school of about 1480 also in the Poldi Pezzoli Museum.

The aged faces of Saint Ambrose and Saint Jerome express inner tension; the light underlines their intense expressions, the shapes of their faces, the knuckles of the hand gripping the scourge, their cloaks and headwear. Certain details are treated with special care, such as Ambrose’s rumpled collar, Jerome’s hood, the fluttering pages and the soft grey beards.

Together with Bramantino, Zenale was one of the few artists updating the tradition of 15th-century Lombard painting, anchored to Vincenzo Foppa’s style, with the novelties brought to Milan by Bramante and Leonardo. If the austerity of these two figures recalls the severe characters depicted by the artist from Brescia, the sculptural force emerging in the tondos derives from Bramante and a new psychological introspection echoes Leonardo.
The two Doctors are contemporary with, or slightly earlier than, the Polyptych of Cantù, of which the right-hand side panel is in the Museum.



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