Home Introduction Jesus Mary Apostles Saints Spiritual Themes Genesis Moses Deuteronomic History Educating Arte Full new Screen

Saint Jerome

Saint Jerome Penitent

Piero della Francesca (ca. 1410-1492). Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz Gemäldegalerie – Berlin. 1450.

Saint Jerome in his Study

Lorenzo Monaco (ca. 1370-1425). Rijksmuseum – Amsterdam. Around 1418.

Saint Jerome in the Desert, Jerome bringing the Lion to the Monastery, the Death of Jerome

Lazzaro Bastiani (1425-1512). Pinacoteca di Brera – Milan.

Saint Jerome

Cosimo Tura (1431-1495). The National Gallery - London.

Saint Jerome reading in a Landscape

Giovanni Bellini (ca. 1430/1431-1516). The Ashmolean Museum – Oxford.

Saint Jerome in his study

Colantonio (ca. 1440-1465 active). Museo e Gallerie Nazionale di Capodimonte – Naples. 1445.

Saint Jerome in his study

Antonella da Messina (1430-1479). The National Gallery – London. 1475-1476.

Saint Jerome

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519). Pinacoteca Vaticana – The Vatican. Around 1480.

Saint Jerome

Filippino Lippi (1457-1486). Galleria degli Uffizi – Florence. 1496.

Saint Jerome in the Desert

Pietro Vanucci called Il Perugino (1448-1523). Musée des Beaux-Arts – Caen. 1499-1502.

Saint Jerome in the Desert

Lorenzo Lotto (1480-1556). Musée du Louvre – Paris. 1506.

Saint Jerome

Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516). Stedelijk Museum – Gent.

Saint Jerome in his Cell

Quentin Massys (1466-1530). Musée des Beaux-Arts – Rouen.

The Saint Jerome Triptych

Adriaan Isenbrant (?-1555). Kunsthalle – Hamburg. 1510-1520.

Saint Jerome penitent

Giovanni Pedrini called Giampetrino. Musée des Beaux-Arts – Rouen. Active from 1510 to 1540.

Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg as Saint Jerome

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553), Hans Cranach (?). The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art – Sarasota (Florida). 1526.

The Temptations of Saint Jerome

Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574). Galleria Pallatina, Palazzo Pitti – Florence. 1541.

Saint Jerome

Marinus Van Reymerswael (ca. 1493-1567). Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten – Antwerp. 1541.

Saint Jerome

Henri Blès (1480-1550). Musée d’Art Ancien – Namur. 1535-1550.

Saint Jerome penitent

Master of the Grilhet Masterpiece of the Provence. Musée des Beaux-Arts – Rouen.Around 1550.

Saint Jerome penitent

Tiziano Vecellio (1489/1490 – 1576). Pinacoteca di Brera – Milan.

Saint Jerome in the Wilderness

Paul Bril (1554-1626). The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art – Sarasota. 1595-1600.

Saint Jerome

Michelangelo Merisi called Il Caravaggio (1570-1610). Museo Galleria Borghese – Rome. Around 1606.

Saint Jerome

Michelangelo Merisi called Il Caravaggio (1570-1610). Museum of Saint John’s – Valletta, Malta. 1607-1608.

The Last Communion of Saint Jerome

Domenico Zampieri called Il Domenichino (1581-1641). Pinacoteca Vaticana – The Vatican. 1614.

Saint Jerome

Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641). Museum Boymans-Van Beuningen – Rotterdam. 1618.

Saint Jerome in his Study

Hendrick van Steenwyck the Younger (1580-1649). The Courtauld Institute and Art Galleries – London. 1624.

Saint Jerome

Jacques Blanchard (1600-1638). Szépmúvészeti Múzeum – Budapest. 1626.

Saint Jerome

Lubin Baugin (1612-1663). Musée des Beaux-Arts – Caen.

Saint Jerome sustained by Angels

Johann Liss (1595-1629). Church of San Nicolo dei Tolentini – Venice. Around 1627.

Saint Jerome

Artus Wollfort (1581-1641). Musée des Beaux-Arts – Caen. Around 1630.

Saint Jerome and the Angel

Guido Reni (1575-1642). Detroit Institute of Arts – Detroit. 1640-1642.

Saint Jerome

Antonio de Pereda. Museo Nacional del Prado – Madrid. 1643.

Saint Jerome

Juan Valdés Leal (1622-1690). Museo Nacional del Prado – Madrid. 1656-1658.

The Death of Saint Jerome

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696 – 1770). Museo Poldi Pezzoli – Milan.


Saint Jerome has been one of the most frequent subjects of painters from the first days till ever. Most paintings however date from the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries and we propose to look at Italian paintings from the fifteenth century made by Lorenzo Monaco, Antonello da Messina, Piero della Francesca, Giovanni Bellini, Leonardo da Vinci, Filippino Lippi and Cosimo Tura. A Dutch-Flemish Bosch painting dates from around the change of that century. From the sixteenth century, we propose Italian pictures by Giorgio Vasari, by Pietro Perugino and by Giampetrino. We also show Flemish-Dutch pictures by Quentin Massys and Marinus van Reymerswael, a French painting and a Flemish-Italian one made on the brink of the next century by Paul Bril. Of the seventeenth century we propose pictures by the specialists of Holy Lives, the Spanish artists, here Antonio de Pereda, and Juan Valdés Leal. We will also present a picture by the Italian Guido Reni. Jerome was painted also in the Netherlands and France in that century: we show a painting respectively of Hendrick van Steenwyck and by the French painters Jacques Blanchard and Lubin Baugin.

Many other painters have taken on Saint Jerome as a subject. There is a ‘Saint Jerome Penitent’ of Jan Gossaert in the National Gallery of Art of Washington D.C. That same museum holds a Saint Jerome of El Greco, an especially daunting picture. There is Jan Van Eyck’s ‘Saint Jerome in his study’ in the Detroit Institute of Arts. There is one by Albrecht Dürer, and so on. Almost every figurative painter has painted a Saint Jerome.

Life of Jerome

Saint Jerome’s full name was Eusebius Hieronymus Sophronius. Jerome or Hieronymus lived from 341 to 420 E5 . He was born in Dalmatia. The ‘Golden Legend’ says he was born in the town of Stridon on the boundary between Dalmatia and Pannonia (Hungary). He studied extensively in Rome and was baptised around 366. He left for Palestine and arrived in Antioch in 374. He became very ill in Antioch and had a dream in which God condemned him for not being Christian enough and too much of a Roman rhetoric. He became a hermit in the desert rocks of Syria for five years. He left his rocks however, was ordained a priest in Antioch and studied further in Constantinople. There he made translations of Greek works in Latin. He returned to Rome where he became the secretary of Pope Damasus, during whose Pontificate Emperor Theodosius proclaimed Christianity as the religion of the Roman State. Damasus was also a pope who was violently opposed to dissensions in the Christian church. He opposed the Donatists of North Africa and other schisms. Pope Damasus commissioned Jerome to revise the Latin version of the Bible into a single final volume. Jerome had learned Hebrew earlier already, while a hermit, so made it his life work to revisit the original Hebrew texts. This Latin Bible was later to be called the Vulgate, the reference version of the Bible in Roman Catholicism.

Jerome stayed in Rome for three years. He left for Betlehem, together with a group of ladies who had lead a convent life in Rome. They made pilgrimages to Palestine and Egypt. Finally, the nuns Paula and her daughter Eustochium founded a convent in Bethlehem. Jerome founded a monastery there too. He remained the rest of his life in Bethlehem. He continued to study, to write, to comment on the lives of saints like Saint Paul the Hermit and Saint Malchus (who had been a hermit like Jerome in the Syrian desert of Chalcis). Jerome died in Bethlehem. He was buried under the Church of the Nativity, but later his body was brought to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.

Saint Jerome was known for his difficult character. He was sarcastic, controversial, had a biting rhetoric and like Pope Damasus, refused compromise on all subjects of the Bible E5 . He was a priest but scarcely said a Mass. He was brilliant and a traditionalist, so, of course, he aroused jalousies. More than once he left a town surrounded by gossip and scandal. He left Rome because of gossip about his relations to Paula.

Jerome wanted as accurate a Bible as possible, soundly based on the oldest texts. He even wanted all monastic life to be directed to the study of the Bible texts, an idea, which he put into practice both in his simple monastery and in Paula’s convent of Bethlehem.

The paintings of Saint Jerome can represent him in various ways. He may be shown as the penitent hermit in front of his rock cave of the Chalcis desert. He can be dishevelled and partly naked, kneeling before a crucifix in the desert. He sometimes holds a rock in his hand, a symbol of his penance. Jerome would also have beaten his chest with such a rock in order to hold back the temptations that disturbed him from his work. Jerome may being whipped by angels for being accused by God to prefer Cicero to the bible. He may be depicted hearing the trumpets of the Last Judgement in the desert G41 .

Often also a lion is at Saint Jerome’s feet. This may come from Saint Paul the Hermit, Paul of Thebes, of whom Jerome wrote about. This Paul is usually shown with two lions who according to legend (Jerome’s writings) burrowed Paul’s grave at the request of Saint Anthony of Egypt. Anthony had been a hermit also, subject to a series of temptations by which, like Jerome, he became a notable subject of paintings over the centuries. The lion may also come from another medieval legend according to which Jerome had removed a thorn from a lion’s paw, after which the ferocious animal thankfully had remained a companion to Jerome. The lion is also a symbol of the power of the scholar over forces of nature and over worldly matters.

The ‘Golden Legend’ compiled various legends around Jerome, one of which was that while Jerome was in the monastery of Betlehem a lion suddenly leaped into the courtyard. It showed its wounded foot. Jerome called the monks to wash the animal’s feet and to clean the wounds carefully G49 . They then found the paw to have been scathed by thorns. The lion recovered and lived among the monks. Jerome even assigned a duty to the lion. The beast was to lead an ass that carried firewood from the forest to the monastery. The lion played the role of guardian, but nevertheless merchants came by and stole the donkey. The lion returned ashamed to the monastery. Jerome punished the beast by having it carry the loads of firewood itself. But one day the lion saw the merchants again, sprang upon them and drove the caravan of camels to the monastery. The merchants then offered half their oil for Jerome’s blessing G49 .

Because of this legend, paintings of Jerome contain not just images of the lion but also often a caravan with camels and merchants travelling by in the landscape. Lazzaro Bastiani, a Venetian painter working mostly in the second half of the fifteenth century took several scenes of these legends and depicted them on the predella panels below a Saint Jerome altarpiece he made for the cathedral of Asolo. The first panel shows the lion in the courtyard of the monastery amongst all the frightened brothers. Saint Jerome looks at the paw of the animal. The second part of the predella shows a traditional representation of Jerome, with the saint in his cave beating his breast with a stone, knelt in front of a crucifix, amidst his books and with the lion at his side. These scenes are the small images of a painter whose only intent it was to show simple scenes of Jerome’s life in a straightforward way. The pictures have more historical than artistic value. They show indeed how even in the late fifteenth century, in the main period of Italian Renaissance, the ‘Golden Legend’ remained an important source on the lives of the saints for painters. The last panel shows the Funeral Mass of Jerome in his monastery.

Jerome beats his breast with a stone in various paintings. This also is a reference to a story from the ‘Golden Legend’. Jerome read Cicero by day and Plato by night, because he disliked the coarse language of the Bible. He came down with a fever however, so sudden that preparations for his funeral were under way and he was hauled before the Judge’s tribunal. Jerome said he was a Christian but the Judge told he was a Ciceronian and had him flogged for having lied. Jerome then would have pleaded for pardon and pledged that he would never again deny Christ by possessing worldly books. Whereupon he regained his strength G49 .

Jerome can also be shown in paintings as a man of learning, seated in his study with books all around him. Or he is painted as a Doctor of the Church, in full cardinal’s ornate. He is then translating the Bible. Jerome never really was ordained a cardinal, but again the ‘Golden Legend’ wrote that he was ordained a cardinal-priest in the church of Rome at the age of twenty-nine.

Paintings of Piero della Francesca and Pietro Perugino

The Piero della Francesca picture of Florence is one of the oldest of our collection. When we look at a Piero della Francesca painting, the first thing we ask ourselves is: where is the geometry, where is the mathematics? We expect evident and subtle geometries in this painting, especially since his well-known ‘Baptism of Christ’ of the National Gallery of London dates from 1442, from well before his Saint Jerome. And that Baptism picture contains many strict geometric patterns. Piero was born around 1420, died in 1492, and seems to have stopped painting around 1470 to devote himself solely to perspective and mathematics. The geometries are subtler in the Saint Jerome. There are triangles in this picture: the crown of the trees forms two triangles of green and a triangle also is the whole corner where Jerome sits. The picture has a distinct lower and upper half, but the overall pattern is not so strict as in the Baptism. Perspective there is: the treetops of the right recline to a point where also the line of the left rocks is drawn to. But the main point of this painting seems to be nature and the face of the Saint.

Saint Jerome sits before his rock cave. His cloak is the colour of the rocks, which makes him almost part of the rocks. He is barefoot, scarcely clad. Saint Jerome wears a stone in one hand, the symbol of his penance, a rosary in the other. His books are on a table and in a niche of the rocks. On the ground lies the red cardinal hat, although Jerome never really was ordained a cardinal. The lion is also there, a symbol of the fighter of God. The lion lies in the continuity of the triangle made by Jerome’s figure and the rocks. Our view is attracted by Jerome’s face, and then glides down to the lion. From the lion we see the reflections of the trees in the small river. Then we go up again to the beautiful green of the leaves. Saint Jerome is not in a desert in Piero della Francesca’s painting. He seems to live in a cave, but a forest and a small river in front of low hills form a bucolic landscape. The trees are light, airy, not entangled. Each tree is separately painted, by the orderly mind of Piero della Francesca. A mathematical mind likes well-defined pictures, not entangled bushes. The river flows calmly, silvery and in the clear waters are reflected first the green tree crowns, then the tree trunks.

The face of Saint Jerome is remarkable. Piero has not really made an old man of Jerome, which is historically right since when Jerome lived as a hermit, he was still quite young. This is one of the most remarkable faces of Italian Renaissance. Jerome seems to be determined, ascetic and slim but with a strong will. He wants to learn out of his books, be left alone, but to a purpose and he does not regret it. We see an obsession here, but not an ascetic, mystic loss to the world. Not a man easy to talk to. He seems too intelligent for his time, too intelligent to remain in a cave. He looks up and the line of the rocks accentuates that line upwards.

Saint Jerome has been painted in the left corner as if to give more emphasis to his loneliness and separation from the world. Piero wants to say: this is not a man like all other men. Leave him alone with his books. He does not want to see you, spectator. More important is God’s creation, you look at that. So, this seemingly strange, simple painting again is pervaded by the intelligence of the Tuscan mathematician. And the Jerome of della Francesca seems to be exactly how we would imagine the scholarly painter genius to be.

Pietro Vanucci called Il Perugino took this example of Piero della Francesca around 1500 for his own picture of ‘Saint Jerome in the Desert’. Pietro Perugino may have been a student of Piero della Francesca. He became far more famous over the centuries than Piero della Francesca, for having made some of the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, and having defined a new way of representation for religious art. Perugino’s picture should be a desert scene according to the title. Although Jerome is knelt in front of his rock cave, the landscape is all but barren. In fact, with its lake surrounded by green trees this country looks more like the peaceful paradise of Eden than like a desert. It is a serene landscape, an ideal place to live in, conform to the kind of ideal places Perugino liked to design. Jerome looks gently, naively and interrogatively at the cross. He holds the stone of his penitence, but the stone is also a symbol of his tenacity. Lion and cardinal’s hat are near.

Perugino has painted a calmer picture than Piero della Francesca, more balanced and sweet. Perugino has reverted the scene of Jerome but it nevertheless resembles much Piero della Francesca’s picture, up to the thin bearded face of Jerome. Piero’s mathematics was subdued into Pietro’s art of composition so that the symmetries disappear in a softer image. Pietro has added splendid colours, such as can be seen in the blue cloak of Jerome. He also added nice details such as small flowers beneath and golden hues on the foliage of the plants above.

Pietro Perugino has composed the scene around the tree of hope, which is situated exactly along the middle vertical axis of the frame. Jerome’s view goes to the Jesus on the cross and this movement is aligned with a diagonal. The contours of the rocks follow the other diagonal. This strong composition underscores the stability and rest of Pietro Perugino’s picture. He had learned the compositional lessons of Piero della Francesca, but he subordinated these to the individual art of his painting.

Piero della Francesca’s and Pietro Perugino’s paintings were early Renaissance pictures. We saw clear design, keen eye for nature and for harmonious composition but emphasis on the human figure, and a desire to blend classical ideals of beauty – certainly in Perugino – with religious themes.

Jerome in his study

Lorenzo Monaco was a painter who lived over the change of the centuries, from 1372 to 1424. His painting of Jerome still feels very Gothic. Jerome is a static, long figure in black robes, shown in his cubicle. The lion at his feet lifts its paw so that Jerome can pick out the thorn. This is one of the oldest representations of the legend of Jerome and the lion. Perspective is applied in this picture, but it is not yet right: some lines run parallel to each other. Jerome looks a wary, old man surrounded by all his books. He does not seem the powerful scholar and adventurer that he has been. In that the picture of Lorenzo Monaco resembles the one of Piero della Francesca. The golden colour is lavishly applied as in the Gothic paintings of Siena.

Colantonio was a master of Naples, where he worked at the court of the first Aragon King of Naples, Alphonso. The painting we show here was made in 1445, just two years after the Aragon Kings arrived in Naples. It presents Jerome in his study. Books are lying all around him on the shelves; paper lies on the ground. Various objects are shown on his desk, such as an hourglass. This was the most popular image of a scholar. It is a striking example of a realistic picture. But also some of the inordinate that we usually associate with Naples is shown here. In the study, Jerome takes a thorn out of the lion’s paw. The lion presents its open paw and Colantonio has given a sad face to the animal. Jerome is dressed as a monk, but his cardinal’s hat lies near.

Another early picture is of Antonello da Messina, who was a pupil of Colantonio. This work is remarkable and interesting in that we see how cells of monks were built in abbeys. As can still be seen for instance in the San Marco abbey of Florence, the cubicles of monks were made of wood and inserted in the space of a large hall. Antonello da Messina has shown Jerome in such a cubicle, with his books around him but also with all kinds of utensils. It seems there is only one cubicle in the large hall, which underscores the loneliness of the scholar. Jerome is in cardinal’s red and the lion and the owl are also there. The owl reminds of the cave where Jerome lived for a long time as a hermit. The owl was also a symbol of wisdom and is thus naturally associated with Saint Jerome.

The paintings of Lorenzo Monaco and Antonello da Messina are simply images of Jerome as a scholar, with the usual symbols that are associated with the saint. They do not prove anything else, do not express views of the painter. Neither Lorenzo nor Antonello have shown other feelings but reverence for the Saint.

From the shop of Lucas Cranach comes a painting on which maybe his son, Hans Cranach, worked. We are now a century later, in the sixteenth, but the study of Jerome is still in bright light and clear colours. Jerome is Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg, humanist, correspondent of Erasmus, and opposer of Martin Luther. But this cardinal did not wish a schism in the Holy Roman Church and tried to avoid the inevitable separation to the end. This cardinal also was a patron of the arts. He commissioned many works to the painter Mathis Gotthard Niethart, called Matthias Grünewald.

The painting of Lucas Cranach is full of medieval symbols. Jerome’s cardinal hat and his lion are in the picture, but also many other objects. Next to Jerome are his pens in a wooden box, and also his prayer books. The apple represents the original sin; the pear denotes Christ incarnate; the beaver is an emblem of industriousness; the pheasant represents immortality, the peacock redemption. The fowl family is a reference to Christ caring for his flock; the hourglass indicates the shortness of life, and so on. The room is a typical German study, with high windows that let the light through amply. For the evenings there is a chandelier made of antlers, in which there is the image of a woman. Such chandeliers and the images were called ‘Leuchterweibchen’ or chandelier girls in German. The scene is austere, but at the same time full of joy so that the Cardinal is not thought of as too strict a man, he is not lonely and isolated, he is a man who can easily grasp the full real meaning of life and enjoy himself in company. Just as Mathis Gotthard Niethart, Lucas Cranach left Cardinal Albrecht to follow Luther.

A Protestant hint comes with the Leuchterweibchen. It is a fact that in many Late Medieval houses of Germany and Switzerland such chandeliers were popular. Examples have been preserved and there is a beautiful one in the Suermondt Ludwig Museum of Aachen for instance. But such a secular chandelier above the head of a cardinal must bear more meaning. Albrecht von Brandenburg was the most important cardinal of Germany and thus had to oppose Martin Luther. He had a mistress, a baker’s daughter called Magdalena Redinger. The image of a woman above the Cardinal’s head like a sword of Damocles may refer to the Cardinal’s mistress.

Quentin Massys, a Flemish-Brabant painter also made a picture of Jerome in his cell. Massys must have known the earlier examples, because his scene much resembles these. Massys however brought Jerome’s face in full view and gave less attention to the study. Massys brought gentleness and intelligence to Jerome’s face. We see here also a Jerome caressing a skull. Around Jerome again are all the attributes of a doctor of the church or of a humanist thinker. Massys’ picture proves that images of Jerome stayed as popular in the North as in Italy.

Hendrick van Steenwyck, a seventeenth century painter born in Frankfurt, Germany but who later worked in London, also made a picture of Saint Jerome in his study. One can see the difference of the centuries. The bright colours and details of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries have made way for more darkness and gloom. Life has become more difficult. So, Jerome is now depicted in a cloister as large as a church, but a Roman arch and the lack of light almost makes a crypt of the volumes. Jerome’s bed is in an alcove; the lion is near the sleeping place. Jerome is dressed in red as a cardinal. He is studiously looking through his books, lost in thoughts. The scene is not unlike Antonello’s. But Van Steenwyck has used dark red and brown colours; light does not bring some joy. The saint works in isolation, far from the light of the world. And of course between this painting and the previous ones came Caravaggio, his night scenes and the discovery of the contrasts between light and dark.

Leonardo da Vinci and the suffering Saint Jerome

Leonardo’s Saint Jerome of the Vatican Museum is an unfinished picture. Jerome is imagined as a man abandoned in the desert, lonely and in despair. He is emaciated; the bones of his ribs show through his thin body. His head is inclined in unhappiness. He is imploring help and company, maybe only recognition of his work. The Vulgate bible could have been devised in this way: an enormous work of a lonely man far from the world. The real Jerome was not like that and his Bible was not conceived in the wilderness. The real Jerome was a man of the world. He was the renowned secretary of a cardinal and Pope, learned women admired him. He lived in the circles of aristocratic Rome. But we like to think of the translation of the Vulgate as the lonely work of genius, just as Leonardo has depicted it. The painting is unfinished. Yet, we can sense the dark and soft tones, the vagueness of the objects in the typical da Vinci ‘sfumato’.

Giovanni Pedrini, called Giampetrino, was probably a pupil of Leonardo da Vinci in Milan. Giampetrino was active in that town from 1510 to 1540, but little is known of his life. He was certainly an accomplished painter as can be seen in his picture of Jerome. The passion of Leonardo is gone in Giampetrino’s painting. Giampetrino shows a devote, fervent, gentle but powerful man in prayers before a cross. The cross is small, but the painter placed it before a far landscape so that the cross can also be perceived as huge in that landscape. This was a nice visual finding for an otherwise not so well known painter, who is not counted among the greatest. Giampetrino’s ‘Jerome’ is a simple, but honest and quite expressive picture.

Cosimo Tura – Jerome as a Conjurer

The Cosimo Tura painting is equally forceful as the Piero della Francesca picture is. Tura was a Ferrara painter, with a style very different from the Tuscan painters, although Andrea Mantegna influenced him. Some of that influence can be seen in the winding landscape. Tura’s Saint Jerome is unworldly, with his long pointed beard, which makes more a magician of him than a saint. He seems to conjure the world with the gesture of his outstretched right arm holding the stone. He is enveloped in the draperies of his cloak as if weird plants entangle him. Jerome is now indeed in a rocky desert, with a violent landscape of red sand mountains and canyons around. Winding paths run against the slopes of the canyon and some pilgrims are seen on those roads, which may lead to a high cathedral hidden on the right. The strangeness is emphasised by the petrified tree trunk against which the Saint is drawn. Jerome’s other symbols are there also: the lion on the lower left, his books on the ground and his red cardinal hat. Added is an owl, a cave bird, symbol of his loneliness and strangeness: the bird is a night animal. What a contrast with the Piero della Francesca painting! Piero placed Saint Jerome in a nice, airy landscape. Cosimo Tura saw his Saint Jerome as a weird sorcerer, with a strong muscled body, a hallucinating figure in a magic, wild canyon.

Filippino Lippi – a Florentine image of Jerome

A much sweeter painter than Cosimo Tura was Filippino Lippi. Filippino was the son of Filippo Lippi. His father died when he was still young, so Botticelli raised him and also became his teacher. Filippino made sophisticated, complex paintings with usually very many figures or many architectural elements in one and the same picture. His portraits are simpler though, and his Saint Jerome is a combination of both. Filippino’s picture resembles Cosimo Tura’s in the overall colours and in the intricate folds of the draped cloak of the Saint. But the Saint Jerome is a much more accessible, nice man here. Jerome keeps his head inclined and there is much tenderness in his eyes. He seems to be an older, more mature and forgiving man. He is knelt before the crucifix, which is fixed on a dead tree. That dead tree is a symbol of the death of Christ. The usual symbols of Jerome are very subtly present, almost hidden. The lion is seen on the ground behind Jerome; in his cave on the middle left lie his books and red cardinal hat. Another lion roams, far and small, on the right. Filippino could not paint Jerome in a desert. So: admire the landscape, the hills and a large river on the right and the flowers and plants on the cave of the upper left.

Venetian paintings of Saint Jerome

Lorenzo Lotto was a Venetian painter, but although born there in 1480 he worked outside the town. He was a very individualistic painter, maybe because he had travelled much in Italy and worked away from his hometown in the solitude of its neighbourhood. In 1554 he became a religious in the Holy House of Loreto and he died there in 1556. Lotto could make very contrasting pictures, very different in themes and in mood. He made scenes of crowds, religious pictures and also interior scenes. His ‘Jerome in the Desert’ is set in a very wild landscape as was not common for the Venetian painters who were anchored in their town and who added more cosmic, imaginable landscapes. Lotto shows an unhappy, lonely, frail man whose only hope and only possession seems to be the cross he holds in one hand. Jerome keeps the stone to remind him of his vow in his other hand and the man seems to ponder these two, bewildered between his wish to continue the separation from the world and the image of Jesus who was so passionately merged with life. This Jerome seems to hear the words of Jesus on the cross ’ Lord, let this chalice pass me by’. Jerome is further set against a barren rock with a dry tree trunk. This scenery gives way to a landscape of woods and a more free, open sky in the far.

Lotto has shown a sad Jerome and a sad picture. We sense the intimate feelings of a lonely, unhappy painter in this picture.

A contemporary painter of Lorenzo Lotto and one who was more famous in Venice was Giovanni Bellini. Bellini was member of a family of Venetian artists. His father Jacopo Bellini painted and so did his brother Gentile. Giovanni Bellini, more than his father, is considered the creator of the Venetian style. The picture ‘Saint Jerome reading in a Landscape’ of the Ashmolean Museum of Oxford is thought to be a work of Giovanni, though there is no certainty on this attribution. The picture is excellent though and indeed contains some of the style figures of Bellini. It is also a calm, intimate picture. Jerome reading in his cave occupies the left half on the frame. Jerome is a serene, quiet old man. There is a scarcity of detail here; we do not see books everywhere on the ground and only spare shrubs grow on the rocks. The lion is present in the painting, but the animal only peers quietly from around the cave. Jerome wears what could be a white Roman toga, which adds to his dignity. His long beard is equally white and his body seems thin and without muscles. This is an idealised Jerome. Saint Jerome sits calmly reading a book on a tablet, obviously delecting in the marvellous blue sky and the landscape of the Veneto. Giovanni Bellini’s style is sensed in the smooth round curves of the sand and roads around Jerome and in the rich, soft yellow and brown colours. This is a picture of meditation, of spirituality, of rest and of resplendent nature. Jerome has forsaken to live among men, but he certainly has found solace in the wonderful nature of the region of Venice around him. Bellini has shown what could be a paradise on earth. He showed a picture truly of the Renaissance: return to the values of direct observation of nature and to serious scholarship of the works of the Antiques.

Hieronymus Bosch – a Northern image

The Dutch-Flemish painter Hieronymus Bosch had at least once in his life to paint his patron saint, Hieronymus stands for Jerome. Bosch’s Jerome is of course the most hallucinating, as could be expected of the possessed Bosch.

Jerome is a younger man abjectly lying on the ground with outstretched arms holding and embracing the crucifix. His head is completely shaven as a penitent monk. Jerome has a thin, emaciated body and legs, scarcely covered by a white cloth. He lies in front of his cave; his arms are inside the cave. But the cave resembles a small wooden forest hut, rounded instead of rocky. Jerome’s symbols are near, but spread all around him, you have to search for them. On the lower right are his cardinal’s hat and one sole book. To the right is a phantom of a lion, turned into some pet dog. On the right also is a petrified tree trunk on which sits the owl. The rest that surrounds Jerome is hallucinatory, worthy of a ‘Temptation of Saint Anthony’. The tree trunk on the right has a wide opening that seems to want to draw Jerome into hell. Above Jerome’s hut is an assembly of stone slabs, over which creep animals and wild plants with thorns. A wooden cross lies amongst the slabs, under the thorns. A symbol of the crowning with thorns of Jesus. Amongst the slabs, maybe meaning heathen antiquity, is a plant that winds like a snake and a stone or wood piece in the shape of an open-snouted wild and dangerous animal. Under Saint Jerome is a small pond, a marsh. Strange fruits disappear in the mud. In the lowest left corner is a hedgehog, also an animal with thorns. On the upper left we see an exotic tree crowned with thistles. This whole landscape around Jerome is weird, ghostly, not of our real world, but out of a bad nightmare. The upper right of the painting then shows a pastoral landscape to heighten the contrast with Jerome’s dreamworlds.

Fifteenth century paintings

We presented in the previous chapters mostly paintings of the fifteenth century, of the Renaissance period. So different by the characters of the painters, of how they saw Saint Jerome, and so different in the impression they wanted to give to viewers. Piero della Francesca showed an intelligent, determined scholar in an airy, structured landscape. Cosimo Tura gave us a sorcerer in the act of conjuring the world out of a desert canyon with steep slopes. Filippino Lippi draws a compassionate, tender, and devote man who seemed almost ashamed of his books and cardinal hat. Finally, Hieronymus Bosch saw Jerome’s nightmares and a monk abjectly stricken by the ugliness of his fears.

In this lies the magic of paintings: one subject is treated with such different visions, so clearly expressed by these genius painters of one century who lived in different cultures of South and North, with differing visions of the universe. Still they have much in common: their Saint Jeromes are all set in a landscape that they cannot forget, as if they are drawn again to the outside world, or they saw Jerome as a scholar in his study.

The contrast is always there, in equilibrium with the space occupied by the scene of the Saint. And that even with Cosimo Tura, who has presented the scene with human figures around the Saint, which was an exception since the pictures of Saint Jerome are mostly about loneliness and isolation from the world. All the pictures express isolation and spirituality and the earliest pictures indicate the scholar Jerome. These Jeromes were still symbols of ideas.

The Renaissance and Late Medieval paintings referred to the two main episodes of Jerome’s life: his life as a hermit in the mountainous desert and his life as a scholar working on the Vulgate Bible. Here we remark the double nature of the Renaissance thought and feeling. Jerome the scholar studied ancient texts, admired them and commented upon them. He knew different languages and conversed with other scholars in the environment of the Papal court of Rome. He had travelled much and found out many things by himself so as to become a wise man. But he was punished ‘for loving Cicero too much’ and lived as a monk in the desert, utterly devoted in the most extreme way to the hardest form of Christianity. Jerome and the Renaissance men studied the classical authors and ancient sources of learning. This was a very secular way of living and it proved a craving for knowledge and wisdom, as were the reasons for the original sin of mankind according to the Book of Genesis. Those intentions contrasted with the dogma and the subjection to the rules of Christian religion. This duality of the Renaissance, which created a tension in its society and its art, is epitomised in the pictures of Saint Jerome.

Giorgio Vasari

Giorgio Vasari, born in 1511 in Arezzo, but who worked in Florence and died there in 1574, belongs to the late Renaissance of the sixteenth century. He was indeed what we still call a Renaissance man although he belonged to quite another period in art, a period we call Mannerism. He was not only a painter and decorator, but also an architect and biographer of the main Renaissance painters. He decorated the immense Salone di Cinquecento of the Signoria fortress of Florence for Cosimo de Medici. He was the architect of the Uffizi building and of the corridor that would protect the Medici when they went from the Signoria over the Uffizi and over the Arno river by the Old Bridge to their Pitti Palace. He was the founder of the Academy of Painters of Florence. He painted a ‘Temptations of Saint Jerome’, which hangs now in the Palatine Gallery of the Medici’s Pitti Palace.

Vasari’s Saint Jerome is an older man, with the usual symbols: the stone in his hand, a lion at his feet, looking at a crucifix, the red cloak for the important function he held in the Church, the books. A skull is added, a symbol more of his negation of life by going into penance as a hermit. But the temptations of Saint Anthony are here brought to Saint Jerome. Which is plausible: Jerome was a hermit just like Anthony, must have been subject to temptations to leave his rock cave just like Anthony. Temptations are in the shape of a Cupid firing arrows of love to the saint, a woman with her baby tempting Jerome to sweet family life, and another angel in the lower left tempting him with science and the arts. No emaciated figures here, but the full flesh and blood figures that Michelangelo started. Saint Jerome is an old but still powerful man; the arm that clutches the stone is well muscled. His other arm embraces the crucifix. Jerome is looking intently at the crucifix, as if to look in the eyes of Christ. But we see not so much of his face. So this seems a less personal Jerome: the viewer is less implicated in the story, the painting is to be admired more than to be taken as a pious example.

The figures surround Jerome so that the frame is filled. The painting is structured in two triangles, the lower right one for Jerome, and the upper half for the surrounding figures. All figures are curved, in action, so the whole painting gives an impression of energy. The figures are in movement, a movement that seems to want to break out of the frame. Vasari had to paint nudes to the example of his illustrious master Michelangelo, so the theme of the temptation by a half-naked female, a mother holding her baby as the image of marriage, surrounded by the nude Cupids, was evident. This image of Saint Jerome is quite another painting than the previous ones we saw: more complex, more decorative, sentimental, nervous, and less close to the usual mind-image we have of Jerome. Art definitely seems to have changed in function with the years separating us from the previous century. This kind of painting, which Michelangelo started, is called Italian Mannerism.

Mannerism was to some extent answer to new tensions in European society. These tensions were the culmination of the duality of the discovery and admiration for Classicism versus the religious Christian zeal still present in the Renaissance and which might have had in fact helped to destroy the Roman culture. Remember how in many paintings Jesus Christ is depicted against Roman ruins, the old faith that Christendom had replaced. The tension between these two feelings was searching for a relief and Mannerism was the last spasms before the resolution of the stress in society and in art. Furthermore Mannerism was contemporary to the uncertainties induced by Martin Luther and Protestantism.

Van Reymerswael

Almost contemporary to Vasari’s picture is the one of Marinus Van Reymerswael. Marinus was born in 1493 in the village of Reymerswael, worked in Antwerp and died around 1567 in Middelburg, the Netherlands. Van Reymerswael was a Mannerist too, but at the same time a Calvinist from the North Netherlands. He studied in Antwerp with Quinten Massys, but must have had some good laughs at the Catholic seriousness of Massys. His Saint Jerome is almost a caricature. We see a roguish Jerome here, ready to retort with witticism. But not necessarily nice witticism. His beard is long and unkempt, low on his face, his head completely bald. He has small but peering eyes. This gives him the face of a person who likes to take things into derision. His long fingers seem like a spider, ready to envelop you and lose you in his rhetoric. The fingers draw our attention to the skull that is menacingly ugly, ready to jump at us with open teeth. Marinus’ picture somewhat resembles the Jerome of Quentin Massys we already presented. Some of Jerome’s symbols are of course present: his cardinal’s hat, his red cardinal habit, the books, the skull, the high crucifix. No lion here: this is a sixteenth century study room in the middle of town.

The structure of the painting is clever. The two diagonals separate the painting in four planes. The right plane contains Jerome, the right one the large open book. The lower one contains the green desk of the table with the pencil and glasses, the upper one the shelf with the scrolls and books. The forms and colour areas that flow over them soften these diagonals, but they are nevertheless quite present in this painting. Van Reymerswael made one of the first and last Protestant pictures of Jerome. Protestantism would have few paintings of Saint Jerome, even though more than ever the Bible was venerated. But Martin Luther wrote another bible and that was not the Catholic Vulgate anymore. Van Reymerswael thus gave us a malignant Jerome.

We are now hundred years after the first painting of our series, yet we see that all these painters knew their saints, their lives and their iconography. They had scarcely books, any catalogues of paintings. Yet they knew which the symbols of a Saint Jerome were and how ancient artists had drawn and presented the saint. These painters travelled and learned a lot. They did not just study the technique of painting with their masters: they acquired also lots of knowledge about how to investigate a subject before starting to paint, to consult theologians, to think before putting the first colour on the canvas. To be a good painter, being able to draw well and to colour well was by far not enough. A painter had to be able to apply and show all his intellect to compose an image that could surprise and appeal to the buyers. Van Reymerswael certainly had that intellect.

Saint Jerome and Landscape Painting

Saint Jerome is a universal theme. You can roam the small museums of Europe and run into a Saint Jerome painted by lesser artists. There is one in the Museum of the Countess Hospice of Lille, made by Artus Wollfort in the seventeenth century. Truly Baroque, a praying Jerome with a sleeping lion, books and the crucifix. Another Jerome of this Flemish painter of Antwerp has found its way in the Museum of Fine Arts of Caen. Or take one in the Museum of Ancient Arts of Namur in Belgium by the painter Henri Blès who was born in the nearby town of Dinant, also on the Meuse River.

Very naïve, the painting of Henri Blès. His Saint Jerome picture is a landscape, made by a local craftsman of the Meuse region. But Blès worked in the renowned workshops of Antwerp and Ferrara and he may have been family to another renowned painter of the Namur-Dinant river axis: Joachim Patenier. Like in many Pateniers the important part of the picture is not the saint but the landscape. Blès has used a landscape that can be found back in many of his paintings, too: a central rock with small roads leading to the top, a luxurious landscape around, far blue hills and a town scene. Blès’ Saint Jerome has all the symbols associated with him: the lion, the cardinal’s hat and cloak, the skull, and Jerome is praying to the crucifix. An owl can be seen somewhat further, but this is not necessarily a symbol of the caves, since Blès always hid an owl somewhere in his pictures. It was his signature. Jerome is drawn as if the painter were a child: delicately, lovely, naïve and simply, and so are the lion and other figures. The saint is small, almost forgotten in the marvellous landscape.

Henri Blès was born in a region of imposing views, of deep rivers, high valley slopes, and a region of steep hills and vast forests. He must have felt an almost mystic unity with that nature, more than most of the city painters of Flanders and Wallony. Man is indeed small in the tortuous rocks, streams, fields and mountains of his landscapes. Blès is thus primarily a landscape painter and he really excelled in the marvellous natural setting of these paintings, adding imaginary traits to nature to form cosmic views.

Landscape painting became important for Flemish artists. Not just the men who were born amidst forests and who thus were close to nature used it. The art in Bruges of the sixteenth century did not rise anymore to the splendour of its previous century. The wealth of Bruges had declined by then, but still famous painters kept workshops in the town.

Thus Adriaan Isenbrant. Isenbrant lived in Bruges during the reign of Emperor Charles V. He participated in the decorations of the Emperor’s Joyous Entry in Bruges and he worked for the various guilds of Bruges. Isenbrant stands between the old Flemish Primitives and a new Renaissance, classicist tradition. Isenbrant made a ‘Saint Jerome Triptych’ in which the Saint is flanked by two female saints: Saint Mary Magdalene and Saint Catherine. Remarkable in this picture are the soft tones and the soft contours resembling the sfumato of Leonardo da Vinci. The elder Saint Jerome is beating his breast in penitence, a pose that is quite seldom represented. His usual symbols are in the picture: the cardinal’s hat and robe, the lion. The landscape in the background is magnificent; it shows a Flemish town in front of wild mountains and rocks. It was still common in those days to paint various scenes of the Saint’s life in one painting. So, a small scene between the saint and the town shows Jerome while taking a thorn out of the lion’s paw. The rocky mountains remind of Jerome’s life as a hermit. In this scene is also a camel, a symbol of Jerome’s life in the Orient and of the caravan of the ‘Golden Legend’ tale.

Our last picture of the sixteenth century is one by Paul Bril. Paul was a Flemish painter, born in 1554 in Antwerp. Paul and his brother Matthias went to Rome when Paul was just twenty. Matthias painted the frescoes of the Geographical Gallery in the Vatican and Paul painted many landscapes with the ruins of old Rome. Paul Bril was one of the favourite painters of Cardinal Federico Borromeo of Milan and the cardinal collected several of Paul Bril’s pictures for his Pinacoteca. The Bril brothers died in Rome, Paul Bril in the year 1626. The brothers had a lively school with many pupils in Rome. Paul Bril is mainly a landscape painting, which one can see in the magnificent painting of the Ringling museum.

This is probably one of the Saint Jerome paintings one can like most. It is an impressive painting, very forcefully three-dimensional. But let’s start with Saint Jerome himself. This time the cave is really a wooden hut. Jerome is again knelt in front of a crucifix. His red cardinal’s robe is open and he pulls the stone of his penance to his heart. He almost cries out his passion to the crucified Jesus. Does he vow to his faith or is this indeed a scene where Jerome in despair cries the hardships of a hermit? The passion of the older Jerome is mirrored in the wild whirling landscape behind the saint. The scenery is not a desert, but a forest scene with hills all flamboyantly overgrown with trees, shrubs, and plants. There is a gorge, maybe a small waterfall and a bridge with wooden railings over the river. High mountains are set farther in the landscape. It is a night scene, the moon looms above. This was a new way of presenting a Saint Jerome scene. The hill road looks somewhat menacing, but at the same time intimate, protected, as it is caved in by the hills. There are less of Jerome’s symbols: his books, the bible at the foot of the high cross. The lion is barely visible on the bridge, but also present. No skull, cardinal’s hat, no owl. In fact, but for the lion, Jerome is the only living soul in the landscape. It emphasises his loneliness and it is probably that problem he is dealing with so passionately looking at the cross. So, this is a vivid drama, quite a story, which must have well appealed to an Italian audience. And it is still another way of looking at Jerome.

In these paintings Saint Jerome is set in a landscape and the landscape seems more important than the saint. That was a different view in art, unknown to Italian Renaissance, as art always centred on man first. The Northern paintings already focused their tradition away from man, away from the proper religious subject and thus created in Europe the awareness for a kind of painting that would perform other purposes in society than religious exaltation and learning. The focus elsewhere than on man stood in conflict with Renaissance ideas. But this conflict was a basis for reflection on art, which would lead to an explosion in subjects as content for paintings in later periods, and already in Italy in the later Renaissance years. But Italian painters never became great landscape painters, primarily interested in nature barred a few exceptions such as Jacopo Bassano.


The great Tiziano Vecellio also painted Jerome and it is one of the most impressive pictures – of course. It is a powerful painting, full of tension and violence. Jerome is the powerful man who is almost fighting with the Crucifix, in the act of anger at trying to perceive its secrets. Books are strewn on the rocks and are neglected. All the wisdom that Jerome sought in books of far centuries is around, but is no avail. Jerome with one outstretched arm conjures the Crucifix, with the other holds the stone as if to want to hit the cross and not himself. One feels Jerome’s desperate anger of not being given the final truth, whether Jesus Christ was God or not. Jerome has dedicated his life in the loneliness of nature and finally cries out his last hopes and last despair of the silence of Jesus’s symbol. No answer will come. The death skull is near and the sand in the hourglass is running. Jerome will disappear in the silence of the wild forest. The ‘Saint Jerome’ of Titian is a late painting, painted in the dark brown and grey tones that Titian came to prefer. Titian painted a scene of fighting humanity, of the anger of man confronted with the ultimate doubts of Christendom: believe or not believe. It is a picture of temptation of the hermit and of seeking humanity.

Baroque paintings

For the seventeenth century, we turn to pious Flanders, to Italy and to zealous Spain. In Spain especially were the painters of saints’ lives by excellence. Painters received many commissions from the rich monasteries.

The picture of Anthony van Dyck is an early painting. For van Dyck, born in Antwerp in 1599, was then only nineteen or twenty years old. It is entirely in the style of the Antwerp master of Baroque art per excellence, Pieter Paul Rubens, who then was in full fame in Antwerp, just forty years old. Jerome is in a cave or in a wooden hut, reading a long paper scroll that is entirely opened on his knees. His legs are crossed and over these are thrown the traditional red cloak. At his feet are on one side a sleeping lion, on the other Jerome’s books and scrolls. An angel holds his pen and a cave owl is barely visible against the darkness of the cave. The angel symbol stresses the fact that Jerome’s Vulgate also was a work of heavenly inspiration. For a painting of such a young artist, this is really impressive. Jerome is an older man, painted with quick brushes, muscles and veins appear clearly only when looked from at from a distance. Jerome is intensely reading and he looks like an older Michelangelo, a powerful genius lost in his scholarly work. The colours of this painting are magnificent, the red cloak draws our attention and a subtle blue hue of a shawl around the angel adds a touch of liveliness. The combination of old age contrasting with the young child that is assisting is also a lucky find of van Dyck.

Guido Reni was an Italian painter from Bologna, where he had learned to paint at the academy of the Carracci family. He founded himself a workshop in Bologna and so together with the Carraccis he was one of the principal masters of the fame of Bologna. In the painting we show, Guido Reni is a very Baroque master: his scene is very dynamic in the movements of Jerome and the angel. Jerome is an ageing but still powerful genius, helped by an inspiring angel.

Equally an old man is the Jerome shown by Il Domenichino. Domenico Zampieri was born in Bologna like Guido Reni and studied in the workshop of Lodovico Carracci. He worked also with Annibale Carracci there, but he spent most of his life in Rome. The ‘Last Communion of Saint Jerome’ was made for the San Pietro cathedral in Rome. Jerome is indeed in the last days of his life in this picture. We see an almost demented very old man, already open-mouthed receiving the host of the Eucharist. Jerome needs to be supported by a crowd, and he is almost nude, as is the traditional image of the saint. The red cloak merely hints at Jerome’s status of a cardinal, and also the lion can only be seen partly in the left corner. Jerome is old but still venerated. People crowd around him to touch him, support him, or kiss his hand. The whole painting is in the finest Baroque style with much pathos and movement.

Jacques Blanchard was called the French Tiziano. Blanchard had been to Venice and he also knew the Baroque Flemish art. His image of Saint Jerome is also Baroque. The picture reminds of the Guido Reni painting and of the van Dyck Jerome. Jerome is an older, but also still a powerful man with a long white beard. He has thrown off his cardinal’s robe and he is staring intently with wrinkled forehead over a skull on his books, right at the cross. The austere, long cross underscores the force of the image. This Jerome is trying to understand Jesus himself, to better grasp the Saviour’s life in the Bible and to transcript it to the Vulgate. Or maybe he is asking Jesus for help at the daunting task. He may actually and sceptically reproach Jesus for not having made his message clearer.

Lubin Baugin who worked in Paris made another French picture. He lived from 1612 to 1663 and died in Paris. Baugin’s picture is quite different from all pictures we present here. We see a knelt and leaning Jerome, sitting on the ground. What strikes in this painting is the simplicity of the composition. There are only two books, and a square table that has the form of a piece of antique marble. The painter has made a very simple yet very gripping picture of a nude old man. Jerome is indeed almost completely naked with a powerful torso. He is bald and bearded. Jerome looks as if he has just found the skull on the ground next to an overturned table and he looks at it in amazement, pondering at the shortness and the vanity of life.

The French also had a long tradition of pictures of Jerome. We have a picture of the Master of the Grilhet altarpiece of the Provence area in southern France dating from the middle of the sixteenth century. This representation of Jerome contrasts with many pictures of the Saint, but it strangely makes us remind the image made by Piero della Francesca. Jerome is the hermit here, holding crucifix and stone. But he is thoroughly emaciated. Jerome is an obsessive, possessed man who knows only religious zeal. The Master of the Grilhet altarpiece has not shown a doctor of the church, but an extraordinarily lonely man looking intensively at the crucifix as if desperately wanting the cross to explain him the mystery of the message, the meaning of its symbol.

Juan Valdés Leal came from Sevilla, born of a Portuguese family in 1622. He worked in Sevilla and Madrid, mainly on commissions of monasteries and died in 1690. The Valdés Leal Saint Jerome is one picture of a whole cycle of the life of the Saint the painter made for the cloister Buenavista near Sevilla. It shows Jerome as a cardinal, but well with his symbols: the crucifix, the books, pen and ink, a slab of stone on the small altar, the lion at his feet. It is a traditional Baroque painting, so the inevitable angels or putti are above. Jerome looks somewhat higher than the cross, and we feel that this is more a cardinal organiser of the Church than a scholar and an ascetic. Jerome is far from beautiful; the angels are outright ugly. This was a feature of Valdés Leal, for some reason he always painted his figures really ugly or at least not beautiful at all.

Antonio de Pereda was born in 1611 in Valladolid, but went to Madrid and worked there from 1635 on together with the best painters of his time like Velazquez, Zurbarán and Maino at the decorations of the royal castle of Buen Retiro. Pereda died in Madrid in 1676. His Saint Jerome is a very realist work. Jerome is an old man and all the wrinkles of his old body are meticulously shown. Jerome is dreaming with his eyes open, thinking with uplifted head about God. He seems to hear Gods voice, trumpeted to his ears, and seems to hold his ear to these sounds. He holds a very crude wooden cross. His books are present, more shown to us than to Jerome because the drawing is right for us but inverted for Jerome. His red cloak, pen and ink, his rock, a skull are his symbols. Just as with Van Reymerswael the skull looks fearsome. Antonio de Pereda has probably made the most realist and touching Jerome. He is an old man, with a white beard, intent on listening to the message of God. He still has power, but for how long? This is a Jerome of the earth, of here, not an elevated Saint. So of all the Saint Jeromes we saw, he is the most human and maybe the closest to us.


Our overview of paintings on Saint Jerome should end with the theme of his death. Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, one of the very last major painters of Venice, made a picture of that scene. It shows all the pathos of the Venetian Rococo style. Saint Jerome is dying, alone and emaciated in a cave. He is resting on the hard ground with just a cloth under him, already in the company of skulls and old bones. Books are still around, but his spirit has gone forever. The heavenly angels crown his head and are waiting to bring Jerome to the Jesus of whom he has written the story so many times. Jerome is expiring, but also longing with open mouth for the beauty above. Tiepolo coloured the scene in warm brown colours and a few yellows and reds, sober colours for a humble departing of a lonely man who invested more importance in his work than in any worldly matter. That world is shown through the cave opening, but the view is distant and dark.


We covered quite a list of paintings, covering three hundred years. What have we learned? Principally the sheer inexhaustible possibilities that painters have to represent a simple theme such as Saint Jerome. We could have taken any theme of the hundreds of themes used again and again over the centuries, and analysed how the theme evolved and how each painter had a different, personal, individual feeling of the subject. Very few themes have been taken up by so many artists as images of Saint Jerome. Every painter made a different picture of Saint Jerome according to his own character and his culture.

For Piero della Francesca Jerome was a determined scholar intent on his books. Piero was himself much like that. Antonello da Messina and Lorenzo Monaco showed Jerome as a scholar-monk in his cell. For Cosimo Tura however, Jerome was a wild, mad sorcerer wielding magic. For Filippino Lippi Jerome was a tender man as probably Filippino was too. Hieronymus Bosch saw Jerome’s nightmares; Vasari saw his temptations. For Blès he was almost unimportant and lost in nature’s marvellous landscapes. Blès was born in such majestic landscapes and took these views with him to Flanders and into his pictures. Van Reymerswael who converted to Protestantism later in life saw in Jerome a dangerous spider-like creature. Paul Bril saw a passionately doubting man, Isenbrant a penitent, Van Dyck and Guido Reni a powerful scholar genius. For Juan Valdés Leal he was a cardinal and for Antonio de Pereda simply a very human but still energetic old man. This is the magic of the endless possible variations on a theme in the imagery of painting, which are in fact the inexhaustible vastness of our human visions and ideas.

Jerome was a much sought after theme. The saint was the symbol of the lonely scholar who created a work of genius with a breadth of vision that spanned centuries. Was this not a dream of all painters too? And maybe an ideal of lonely, epic creation made in spiritual isolation that all painters secretly sought. This creation of the mind, this spirituality had power over nature and world.

Other paintings:

Fourteenth century:

Fifteenth century:

Sixteenth century:

Seventeenth century:

Eighteenth century:

Copyright: René Dewil Back to the navigation screen (if that screen has been closed) Last updated: January 2007
Book Next Previous

Copyright: René Dewil - All rights reserved. The electronic form of this document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source as 'René Dewil - The Art of Painting - Copyright'. No permission is granted for commercial use and if you would like to reproduce this work for commercial purposes in all or in part, in any form, as in selling it as a book or published compilation, then you must ask for my permission formally and separately.