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

St Jerome in his Study

Engraving, 259 x 201 mm
Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe

St Jerome in his Study is stressing the contemplative rather than the active aspect of Christian life. The engraving shows the translator of the Bible deep in thought at his lectern, with the figure of the saint illuminated by sunlight streaming through the window panes into the cosy room. In front of St Jerome are the resting figures of his faithful lion and dog. A skull on the windowsill and an hourglass above the saint are reminders of the transience of life. The astonishing advance in Dürer's printmaking technique is evident when this engraving is compared with his early woodcut of the same subject.

Dürer, according to the diary of his trip to the Netherlands during 1521-21, sold or gave away copies of this print more frequently than any of his others.

It has been repeatedly asserted that this engraving was to be part of a projected series representing the four human temperaments. Only two others have been so far identified, Melencolia I, and Knight, Death and Devil. Although they correspond in size, Dürer never gave away all three as a set. Occasionally he gave away St Jerome and Melencolia I as a pair.

In the last of the three master engravings, Dürer placed particular emphasis on the subtle differentiation of the material qualities of the objects, and the depiction of the interior according to the laws of central perspective, the converging lines of which terminate in the space to the right of the figure of the saint. The design is based on an exact plan of perspective. A certain degree of distortion is due to the fact that the vanishing point is placed close to the margin instead of the centre. This is a peculiarity that can be observed in other works by Dürer.