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

St Jerome in the Wilderness

c. 1495
Oil on panel, 23 x 17 cm
National Gallery, London

St Jerome kneels as a penitent. In his right hand he holds the Bible, which he translated into Latin, and in his left hand the stone which he is using to beat his breast. His eyes stare upwards, beyond the small crucifix stuck into the tree trunk. Wearing a blue gown, his red mantle and cardinal's hat lie beside him on the ground. Behind is his faithful lion, befriended after he had removed a thorn from its paw. In the background is a landscape with dramatic rock formations, probably based on sketches that Dürer had made of the quarries near Nuremberg. The scene is lit by a dramatic evening sky.

The reverse of the panel depicts an apocalyptic celestial phenomenon, a red star-like light and a streaking golden disc. Although some scholars have considered it to be an eclipse or meteor, it is almost certainly a comet. Dürer's image is probably derived from woodcuts of comets published in the Nuremberg Chronicle of 1493. A similar object to the one painted by Dürer appears in the sky of his engraving of Melencolia I, made 20 years later.