DÜRER, Albrecht
(b. 1471, Nürnberg, d. 1528, Nürnberg)

St Jerome

Oil on panel, 60 x 48 cm
Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon

Dürer painted St Jerome in Antwerp in March 1521 and presented the panel to his friend Rodrigo Fernandez d'Almada. He wrote in his diary: `I painted a Jerome carefully in oils and gave it to Rodrigo of Portugal.' The panel was displayed in the merchant's private chapel in Antwerp and was later taken back to Portugal. It is the only religious picture that Dürer painted in the Netherlands.

The figure of the saint is based on a drawing of an old bearded man. On the drawing, Dürer inscribed: `The man was 93 years old and yet healthy and strong in Antwerp.' The skull in the painting, which Dürer had also sketched separately (Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Vienna), was probably the `little skull' which he had recorded buying for two pennies several months earlier in Cologne.

In the painting, St Jerome, bearing the wrinkled features of the 93 year-old, rests his right hand against his head, in a contemplative pose. With his index finger of the other hand he lightly touches the skull, a symbol of the brevity of life. The skull is symbolically placed between the open Bible on a small lectern and the ink-well, a reminder of the saint's role as the translator of the Bible. The aged St Jerome looks despondently out of the picture. Dürer's painting was strongly influenced by Flemish art, particularly the work of Quentin Massys.

There is an inscription on the slip of paper sticking out of the book, monogrammed and dated 1521.