My Favourite Painting: John Stefanidis

'The animals are particularly appealing'

St Jerome Leading the Tame Lion into the Monastery, from the cycle of paintings, 1502–07, by Vittore Carpaccio, in the Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni chapel, Venice, Italy. Bridgeman Images.

John Stefanidis says:
‘Of all the wonders of Venice, none has surpassed the pleasure given to me by this frieze of paintings by Carpaccio–and especially St Jerome and the Lion. They evoke Venice at the height of its glory. Orientalism is depicted in an imaginary fashion based on the reality of Venetian trade with the Levant, India and the Orient. The animals are particularly appealing, the buildings are architectural follies, the turbaned figures in brocade robes the epitome of elegance’

John Stefanidis is a leading interior designer whose projects include royal palaces and the Bank of England

Art critic John McEwen comments:
‘John Stefanidis’s description of Carpaccio’s figures as ‘the epitome of elegance’ is apt, as he himself epitomises cosmopolitan style. Raised in Alexandria before the Second World War, he is multi-lingual, has lived in several countries and has seen most of the best art the world has to offer.

In his memoir, Designs, he says that Venice is ‘the most oriental of European cities’ (London unsurpassed for ‘cultural range’) and adds that, as a demonstration of affection, he often derives ideas for fabrics from Old Master paintings, for example ‘a pattern on the robes of the figures by Carpaccio’. The Venetian scuole were charitable institutions similar to the halls of our Livery Companies. San Giorgio was founded by the Dalmatians (Slavs), is modest in size and devotional in practice, and all the more charming for it. Ruskin describes the chapel in the two-storey building as ‘about the size of the commercial parlour of an old-fashioned English inn’.

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There are 10 Carpaccios: seven of Saints George, Tryphon and Jerome and three New Testament subjects. George is so mythical that the Church no longer counts him a saint, Tryphon is an early martyr, and Jerome (347–420), an undisputed Dalmatian, is one of the great Church Fathers. Author of the vulgate (public) version of the Bible, he is the patron saint of translators, librarians and encyclopaedists. A scholarly acetic, St Jerome renounced his wealth for a hermit’s life. He removed a thorn from a lion’s paw, after which the lion became his household pet. He died in a Bethlehem monastery.’

This article was first published in Country Life, July 1, 2009