Desiderio da Settignano, born in a small village in the hills above Florence, numbers among the most brilliant marble sculptors of the Renaissance. His mastery of relief sculpture is apparent in this pictorially rich image, with its complicated space in which figures move in different planes, all suggested by the subtlest manipulations of the marble surface.
Clearly Desiderio had learned much from the low-relief techniques of Donatello. The sculptor invented a rocky, wilderness landscape with a cloud-streaked sky and tall, pointed cypress trees receding into the distance among the cliffs. In the foreground, Saint Jerome kneels in penitential prayer before a crucifix. He wears only a few crumpled wisps of drapery, and his gaunt face tells of fervent, ascetic devotion. On the right, in particularly fine low relief, suggesting he is some distance in the background, a terrified boy flees from the lions that emerge from the rocks on the left behind the cross.
According to legend, Jerome tamed a lion by removing a thorn from its paw, and the lion therefore often appears as his attribute in art. The lions here, clearly no threat to the saint, suggest his harmonious relationship with nature, achieved through solitary meditation, prayer, and penance.
Marks and Labels
Possibly the marble "basso relievo" of "San Gírolamo" in the "Prima Stanza della guardaroba segreta" in Palazzo Vecchio in 1553. (Tito Gagliardi, Florence); purchased c. 1870 by Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaévna [1819-1876, daughter of Czar Nicolas I] as a gift to Baron Karl Eduard von Liphart [1808-1891], Florence; removed c. 1891 to the family estate, Raadi Manor, near Tartu, Estonia (known in German as Schloss Ratshof, near Dorpat); his grandson, Baron Renaud de Liphart, Raadi Manor, by 1907, then Poland, and later Copenhagen; purchased 1921 through (Wilhelm R. Valentiner, New York) by the Estate of Peter A.B. Widener; inheritance from the Estate of Peter Widener by gift through power of appointment of Joseph E. Widener, Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, after purchase 1921 by funds of Joseph E. Widener; gift 1942 to NGA.
- Desiderio da Settignano: Sculptor of Renaissance Florence, Musée du Louvre, Paris; Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2006-2007, no. 15, repro.
- La Primavera del Rinascimento: La Scultura e le Arti a Firenze 1400-1460, Palazzo Strozzi, Florence; Musée du Louvre, Paris, 2013-2014, no. VII.9, repro.
- Bode, Wilhelm von. Italienische Bildhauer der Renaissance. Berlin, 1887: 56-57.
- Bode, Wilhelm von. Denkmäler der Renaissance-Sculptur in Italien. 17 vols. Munich, 1892-1904: 7:pl. 305.
- Neumann, Dr. Wilhelm. "Aus Baltischen Gemäldesammlungen." Zeitschrift für Bildende Kunst 35, new series 11 (1900): 269 fig. 6, 271.
- Schubring, Paul. Donatello: Des Meisters Werke in 277 Abbildungen. Stuttgart and Leipzig, 1907: repro. (2nd ed., New York, 1921)
- Bode, Wilhelm von. Florentine Sculptors of the Renaissance. London, 1908: 114.
- Bode, Wilhelm von. Florentiner Bildhauer der Renaissance. Berlin, 1921: 174-175.
- Venturi, Adolfo. L'Arte a San Girolamo. Milan, 1924: 165-166, 168, fig. 133.
- Valentiner, Wilhelm R. "The Italian Renaissance Sculptures of the Widener Collection." Art News 26, no. 28 (14 April 1928): 15-16, 17 pl. 4.
- The Magdalen and sculptures in relief by Desiderio da Settignano and his associates. Photographs by Clarence Kennedy. Studies in the history and criticism of sculpture [Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts] 6 (1929): pls. 12-16.
- Middeldorf, Ulrich. "Two Florentine Sculptures at Toledo." Art in America 28, no. 1 (January 1940): 29.
- Goldscheider, Ludwig. Donatello. New York, 1941: 31 n. 20.
- Planiscig, Leo. Desiderio da Settignano. Vienna, 1942: 16, 42, pl. 4.
- Works of Art from the Widener Collection. Foreword by David Finley and John Walker. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1942: 8.
- Swarzenski, Georg. "Some Aspects of Italian Quattrocento Sculpture in the National Gallery." Gazette des Beaux-Arts 6th series, 24 (November 1943): 291.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Widener Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1948 (reprinted 1959): 117, repro.
- Seymour, Charles. Masterpieces of Sculpture from the National Gallery of Art. Washington and New York, 1949: 177-178, note 29, repro. 102-105.
- Shapley, Fern Rusk. Comparisons in Art: A Companion to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. London, 1957 (reprinted 1959): pl. 19.
- Pope-Hennessy, John. Italian Renaissance Sculpture. London, 1958: 37, 302, 303-304, pl. 65.
- Cardellini, Ida. Desiderio da Settignano. Milan, 1962: 244, fig. 296.
- Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 152.
- Clarence Kennedy. Exh. cat. Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Massachusetts, 1967: 22, fig. 94, mislabelled as Relief of the Christ-Child and Young St. John by Desiderio da Settignano and Associates.
- European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 135, repro.
- Wittkower, Rudolf. "Desiderio da Settignano's St. Jerome in the Desert." Studies in the History of Art 4 (1971-1972): 6-37, repro.
- Wittkower, Rudolf. Sculpture: Processes and Principles. New York, 1977: 82-86, fig. 1.
- Vines, Grizel Cochrane. "Desiderio da Settignano." Ph.D. dissertation, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, 1981: 19, 24, 31, 51-52, 56, 61, 74, 141-146, no. 14.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 626, no. 970, repro.
- National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 286, repro.
- Penny, Nicholas. "Non-Finito in Italian Fifteenth-Century Bronze Sculpture." Antologia di belle arti new series, nos. 48-51 (1994): 14, figs. 5, 6.
- Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1994: 73, repro.
- Lemke, Melissa Beck. "The mysteries of Desiderio's 'St Jerome' revealed by Clarence Kennedy." The Burlington Magazine CL (November 2008): 755-757, fig. 47.
- Androsov, Sergey. "Collection de la Grande Duchesse Marie Nicolaévna et de Karl Eduard von Liphart." Baltic Journal of Art History (Autumn 2011-Spring 2012): 294-296.
- Luchs, Alison. " 'Cosi si specchi' :Speculations on Medici Patronage and Purposes for Desiderio's Louvre Tondo." In Connors, Joseph, Alessandro Nova, Beatrice Paolozzi Strozzi and Gerhard Wolf, eds. Papers from a colloquium held at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence, Max-Planck-Institut, and at Villa I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, Florence, May 9-12, 2007 on occasion of the exhibition in Florence dedicated to Desiderio da Settignano. Venice, 2011: 1.