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Peter Humfrey, “Veronese, Benedetto Caliari/Saint Jerome in the Wilderness/c. 1575/1585,” Italian Paintings of the Sixteenth Century, NGA Online Editions, (accessed April 15, 2024).

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Mar 21, 2019 Version

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The penitent, half-naked Saint Jerome contemplates a crucifix. His chest is bloodied and raw from beating himself with a stone. Jerome was a priest and scholar who translated the Bible into Latin. During the period of his life depicted here, it is said that he went into the wilderness in Syria to study the Bible and to write, giving up material comforts. In a story about that time, he tamed a lion by treating its wounded paw. He is shown here with memento mori symbols (reminders of death) of a skull and an hourglass.

The overall style of this painting is that of Paolo Veronese; however, certain traits of the painting suggest that the work was completed by someone who worked under him in his studio. This assistant may have been Paolo’s younger brother Benedetto Caliari. The hard, shiny, and planar treatment of the foreground drapery and the approach to musculature resemble examples seen elsewhere in Benedetto’s work. The younger brother went on to become Veronese’s primary artistic heir after the master’s death in 1588.


In keeping with a well-established iconography, the penitent, half-naked saint is shown contemplating a crucifix and about to mortify his flesh by beating his breast with a stone. Prominently visible are his attributes of a tame lion, the Bible he translated into Latin, and the memento mori symbols of a skull and an hourglass.

While the generic style is clearly that of Paolo Veronese, there exists some critical disagreement both on the extent of the master’s involvement and on its place in his career. Following Wilhelm Suida and Bernard Berenson, Terisio Pignatti and Rodolfo Pallucchini accepted the picture as autograph;[1] but Richard Cocke called it a workshop piece, and Fern Rusk Shapley conceded that it is weaker in quality than Veronese’s altarpieces of the same subject from Santa Maria degli Angeli, Murano (now in San Pietro Martire), and Sant’Andrea della Zirada, Venice (now in the Gallerie dell’Accademia).[2] Although the present appearance of the picture is compromised by its poor condition, details, such as the weak drawing of the saint’s right foot and the awkward conjunction of the lion and the saint’s left leg, do indeed seem to indicate that it is by a studio assistant. This assistant may perhaps be most plausibly identified as Paolo’s younger brother Benedetto Caliari (1538–1598), who is already recorded as a collaborator on the paintings at San Sebastiano in the 1550s, and who became Veronese’s primary artistic heir after his death in 1588.[3] Benedetto’s own artistic personality is usually submerged beneath that of his brother, but the Gallery’s picture shares a number of stylistic traits with two of his best-attested independent works: the Washing of the Disciples’ Feet and the Christ before Pilate (both Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice), painted in the late 1570s for the now-demolished church of San Niccolò ai Frari.[4] In particular, the treatment of the drapery in the Saint Jerome closely resembles that in the foreground draperies of the Washing of the Disciples’ Feet: hard, shiny, and planar; and in both works, the musculature, too, falls into similarly stylized patterns.

The attribution of the present picture to an assistant, perhaps Benedetto, rather than to the master himself in turn affects any assessment of the date. Whereas Pignatti and Pallucchini placed the picture close to the Murano Saint Jerome of 1565,[5] Shapley and Annalisa Perissa Torrini argued for a rather later date, close to the Sant’Andrea version, which is generally agreed to date from circa 1580.[6] This later dating is the more convincing: apart from the fact that the lion is closely repeated from its counterpart in the finer Sant’Andrea altarpiece, the Gallery’s picture shares with this work the planar pose of the saint and the twilit, atmospheric landscape, both of which contrast with the Murano version, with its clear projection of firmly modeled forms into space. The saint’s profile also closely resembles that of other elderly figures by Veronese of about this time, such as the foremost king in the Hermitage Adoration of the Magi of circa 1580–1582. A likely date, therefore, is one close to that of Benedetto’s two paintings of the late 1570s for San Niccolò ai Frari, or perhaps slightly later.

According to Suida, the work may be identical with “a little picture with Saint Jerome” by Veronese recorded by Carlo Ridolfi (1648), Marco Boschini (1664), and Anton Maria Zanetti (1733) in the passage leading to the sacristy in the church of San Sebastiano in Venice.[7] This suggestion is not necessarily contradicted by the probable provenance of the Gallery’s picture from the collection of Sir Peter Lely in the late 17th century, since Zanetti could have been simply repeating the information of Boschini, without realizing that the picture had already been sold to England. Yet Ridolfi’s phrase “piccolo quadretto” seems to imply a picture considerably smaller than one measuring nearly four feet by three, and the identification remains doubtful.

Shapley recorded the existence of a coarse copy in the Museo Provincial, Gerona.[8]

Peter Humfrey

March 21, 2019


Peter Lely [1618-1680], London; (his estate sale, at his residence, Covent Garden, London, 18 April 1682, fifth item on list);[1] purchased by Anthony Grey, 11th earl of Kent [1645-1702];[2] by descent in his family to Thomas Philip Robinson, 2nd earl De Grey of Wrest and 5th baron Lucas of Crudwell [1781-1859], Wrest Park, Ampthill, Bedfordshire;[3] by descent in his family to Nan Ino Herbert Cooper, 10th baroness Lucas of Crudwell [1880-1958], The Hall, Horsey, Norfolk, and Struy Lodge, Beauly, Highland, Scotland; (Lucas sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 16 November 1917, no. 123); purchased by Smith. Freiherr Detlev von Hadeln [1878-1935], Venice. (Count Alessandro Contini Bonacossi, Florence); sold 1954 to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York;[4] gift 1961 to NGA.

Exhibition History

Loan to display with permanent collection, Birmingham (Alabama) Museum of Art, 2003-2014.

Technical Summary

The support consists of a twill-weave, medium-weight fabric. The painting has been lined and the tacking margins have been removed, with consequent damage along all four sides. It also appears from x-radiographs and examination with a stereomicroscope that the ground is either very thin or nonexistent. The sky and background were apparently painted prior to the addition of the figure, and the paint was applied unusually thinly, with impasto restricted to the yellow highlights and some of the white on the saint’s drapery.

The paint surface shows medium to heavy abrasion throughout and numerous scattered losses. Conservation treatment in 1986 involved the removal of extensive discolored retouching and overpaint, followed by extensive inpainting to match areas of original paint. Also removed at this time was a small branch above the saint’s head, which was found to be a complete addition.

Peter Humfrey and Joanna Dunn based on the examination reports by Ann Hoenigswald, Jia-sun Tsang, and Carolyn Tallent

March 21, 2019


Catalogue of Pictures Belonging to Thomas Philip Earl de Grey at his house in St. James's Square. Privately printed, London, 1834: n.p., no. 116.
Paintings and Sculpture from the Kress Collection Acquired by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation 1951-56. Introduction by John Walker, text by William E. Suida and Fern Rusk Shapley. National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1956: 192, no. 76, repro.
Berenson, Bernard. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Venetian School. 2 vols. London, 1957: 1:130.
Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1959: 208, repro.
Waterhouse, Ellis K. “A Note on British Collecting of Italian Pictures in the Seventeenth Century.” The Burlington Magazine 102 (1960): 54.
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. Treasures from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1962: 40, color repro.
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 136.
Marini, Remigio. Tutta la pittura di Paolo Veronese. Milan, 1968: 109, no. 124.
National Gallery of Art. European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. Washington, 1968: 123, repro.
Fredericksen, Burton B., and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972: 40, 409, 647.
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: Italian Schools, XVI-XVIII Century. London, 1973: 42-43, fig. 76.
European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 364, repro.
Pignatti, Terisio. Veronese. 2 vols. Venice, 1976: 1:131.
Cocke, Richard. “Review of Veronese, L’Opera Completa, by Terisio Pignatti.” The Burlington Magazine 119 (1977): 787.
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Catalogue of the Italian Paintings. 2 vols. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1979: 1:526-527; 2:pl. 366.
Pallucchini, Rodolfo. Veronese. Milan, 1984: 86-87, 177.
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 215, no. 261, color repro.
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 423, repro.
Perissa Torrini, Annalisa. “San Gerolamo Penitente.” Quaderni della Soprintendenza ai Beni Artistici e Storici di Venezia 15 (1988): 139.
Pignatti, Terisio, and Filippo Pedrocco. Veronese: Catalogo completo dei dipinti. Florence, 1991: 178, no. 178.
Pignatti, Terisio, and Filippo Pedrocco. Veronese. 2 vols. Milan, 1995: 1:266-267 no. 169; 2:384.

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