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.
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.
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- 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.
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- Lemke, Melissa Beck. "The mysteries of Desiderio's 'St Jerome' revealed by Clarence Kennedy." The Burlington Magazine CL (November 2008): 755-757, fig. 47.
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- 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.