National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Saint Jerome Penitent [left panel] Jan Gossaert (artist)
Netherlandish, c. 1478 - 1532
Saint Jerome Penitent [left panel], c. 1509/1512
oil on panel
painted surface: 86.7 x 24.5 cm (34 1/8 x 9 5/8 in.) overall (panel): 86.7 x 25.3 cm (34 1/8 x 9 15/16 in.) framed: 94.3 x 61.2 x 5.7 cm (37 1/8 x 24 1/8 x 2 1/4 in.)
Samuel H. Kress Collection
1952.5.40.a
On View
From the Tour: Antwerp in the Early 1500s
Object 1 of 7

These two panels are painted with the subtly varied grays known by the French term “grisaille,” a palette that mimicked the appearance of stone sculpture and was used most often, as here, on the exteriors of altarpiece shutters.

Seen in the desert where he lived for a time as a hermit, Jerome holds the stone he used to beat his chest in penance for the visions of pleasure that interrupted his meditations. He looks to a crucifix growing out of a gnarled and lifeless tree. The imagery suggests both death and salvation, and it would also recall for contemporary viewers medieval legends connecting the wood of the cross to the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge. Jerome is accompanied by the lion who, according to legend, became his faithful companion after the saint removed a thorn from its paw. In the distance unfolds the story of his false accusation of the lion—that it had devoured a caravan donkey—and their subsequent joyful reunion at the upper right.

Gossaert was apparently the first Netherlandish artist to travel in Italy, but it is unclear whether he painted Saint Jerome before or after his trip. Jerome's robust physique and beardlessness, uncommon in medieval representations, could have been inspired by ancient or Italian Renaissance works, but the darkly threatening landscape and the lion's unnaturally flat face seem more at home in northern art.

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