Title: St. Jerome Penitent
Engraving on laid paper
Dimensions: Image: 16 3/8 x 11 1/8 inches (41.6 x 28.3 cm);
Sheet: 17 5/8 x 12 1/4 inches (44.8 x 31.1 cm)
Acquired through the Museum Membership Fund
The story of St. Jerome from the New Testament describes a life of scholarly rigor and religious devotion: at various stages in his life, Jerome lived as a hermit; served as secretary to Pope Damasus I; founded a monastery; and, not least, translated the Hebrew bible into Latin (the Vulgate). A popular subject, St. Jerome was frequently depicted as a penitent hermit.
St. Jerome is shown seated, naked except for folds of sheeting, his body muscular and youthful. Goltzius captures him in a moment of active contemplation, leaning upon and in conversation with the Bible. He motions to himself (and to us) with one hand and raises the other in a rhetorical gesture of speech. His pointing finger also indicates the crucifix above him. Jerome is surrounded by his attributes: the Bible, of course, but also the lion and the skull, the latter being memento mori that brings our focus, as well as his own, to the transience of life. To emphasize the point, Goltzius echoes the boniness of skull in the saint’s large bald head.
The sinuous line of Jerome’s torso mimics Christ’s pose, though in reverse, and calls attention to the saint’s shapely leg; his figure demonstrates a finely articulated, even virile physicality, masculine but not sexualized. He is an attractive penitent, at ease in the pleasant landscape seen in the distance. (“Undressed: The Nude in Context, 1500-1750,” text by Lisa Pincus and presented at the Johnson Museum February 9-June 16, 2019)
NOTE: This electronic record is compiled from historic documentation which may not reflect the Johnson Museum's complete or current knowledge of the object. Review and refinement of such records is ongoing.