(b. 1528, Verona, d. 1588, Venezia)

St Jerome

c. 1580
Oil on canvas, 251 x 167 cm
Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice

This altarpiece was painted for the church of Sant'Andrea della Zirada. Here the only figure present is the wonderfully monumental one of St Jerome, shown meditating on the Passion of Christ on the cross and simultaneously beating his breast with a stone. The saint is identified with great clarity by the presence of his symbols, a lion, cardinal's hat and books. The concept that the human being can only attain salvation by struggling fiercely with the weakness of the flesh through meditation and mortification, already evident in the behaviour of the saint, is underlined, at a deeper level of iconographic interpretation, by the harsh rocky landscape covered with wild scrub behind St Jerome, which would make it difficult to reach the flight of steps leading up to the plateau, occupied emblematically by a church and an obelisk, symbol of eternity.

The painting is almost a figurative manual of late sixteenth-century asceticism. It illustrates distrust of self and faith in Christ, the exercise of penitence, and dedication to meditation and prayer.