St. Jerome (about 332–420) is known for his translation of the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin, called the Vulgate. Because he once served as secretary to the pope in Rome, Jerome traditionally is depicted in the red hat and robes of a cardinal, even though that church office did not exist during his lifetime. Here, St. Jerome is portrayed as a scholar in a wood-paneled study with a tile floor, rendered in linear perspective to create the illusion of spatial depth. The portrait is framed by a stone archway and pillars carved with figures of saints under Gothic canopies. Within, Jerome turns from his books toward a small lion. According to legend, during a visit to the wilderness near Bethlehem, St. Jerome encountered a lion suffering from a thorn in its paw. Taking pity on the beast, the saint removed the thorn, thereby winning the devotion of the lion, which became his constant companion. The artist probably had never seen a lion and modeled his depiction on other artists’ renderings.
The artist’s attention to domestic details—such as the books and writing implements on his desk and the pewter containers on the shelves—characterizes many northern European paintings of this period, as do the angular folds of drapery gracefully arrayed around the feet of St. Jerome. The painter’s interest in the natural world is reflected in the luminous landscape glimpsed through an open door.
Tags: Late Gothic, Northern Renaissance, Netherlandish painting