Saint Jerome in Penitence

Master of the Legend of Saint Lucy (Bruges, 1450)

By Museo Lázaro Galdiano

Museo Lázaro Galdiano

Saint Jerome in Penitence (ca. 1450) by Master of the Legend of Saint LucyMuseo Lázaro Galdiano

This painting of Saint Jerome is by the unknown artist referred to as The Master of the Legend of Saint Catherine. His style can be distinguished in the attention to detail of the brushstrokes and in the patterns used. The saint is shown wearing the habit of a penitent, and whipping his chest in front of the crucifix, emulating the passion of Christ.

Saint Jerome is well known for translating the Bible into Latin; this version is known as the Vulgate. Before he undertook this work, Saint Jerome spent some time in penitence in the desert of Chalcis (present day Qinnasrin in Syria). It is thought that this painting depicts him there.

The background features beautiful 15th-century castles and palaces located in Bruges (Belgium), rather than from Saint Jerome's lifetime of 347–420 A.D. This practice was commonplace in Flemish paintings and was a way of making a religious message timeless.

Two figures, one kneeling in front of the other, appear on the path leading from the grand palaces to the crucifix. This may be an allusion to Saint Jerome's conversion, or to the moment he encountered an injured lion.

Precious stones appear at the edge of the water. These are the jewels described in the Bible as being carried in the river Pishon. This was one of the four rivers of Paradise mentioned in Genesis.

The red cardinal's robes, cloak, and hat that lay at the saint's feet are a reference to his role as a patriarch and father of the Church.

This lion represents the story of Saint Jerome that appears in the "Golden Legend," in which the saint came across an injured lion on one of his walks. He healed it and converted it into another disciple. The lion is transformed through its characteristics. Here, his human eyes give him a worried look.

Paintings like these were a guide for the viewers behavior and piety but also present the story of the life of the saint they portray.

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