Giovanni Bellini (artist)|
Venetian, c. 1430/1435 - 1516
Saint Jerome Reading, 1505
oil on panel
painted surface: 47 x 37.5 cm (18 1/2 x 14 3/4 in.) support: 48.9 x 39.5 cm (19 1/4 x 15 9/16 in.) framed: 62.9 x 52.9 x 6 cm (24 3/4 x 20 13/16 x 2 3/8 in.)
Samuel H. Kress Collection
Object 4 of 7
Saint Jerome is often depicted on small devotional panels like this one. Because he had translated the Bible into Latin, the saint was a favorite of Renaissance humanists and was often shown reading in a study. Other depictions showed him in the wilderness, living as a hermit and beating his breast in penance. Here the two types are combined.
In fact, the elderly saint and his lion companion, shifted to the lower right, occupy only a small area of the painting. The landscape commands center stage, filled with a distant view and abundant life, all washed with a radiant light. Many of the plants and animals have various symbolic meanings—the rabbits, for example, could serve as reminders of lust or Christian meekness. Rather than intending that we "read" them as symbols, perhaps Bellini means us to see them simply as part of a vast and rich nature.
Perhaps, paradoxically, it was because Venice was so intensely urban—it was a largely artificial environment constructed on pilings and scant marshy ground—that its artists developed into such evocative landscape painters. Their approach, in contrast to contemporaries elsewhere, was more intuitive than scientific: they responded to, rather than recorded, nature.
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