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Jan. 14 Art Minute: Italian (Venice?), St. Jerome in the Wilderness

Art Minute, Art of the Week, toledo museum of art
Italian (Venice?), St. Jerome in the Wilderness. Oil on wood panel, about 1500-25. Purchased with funds from the Libbey Endowment, Gift of Edward Drummond Libbey, 1940.43

Saint Jerome (342-420) kneels in prayer in an extravagant landscape inhabited by peasants, monks, and animals, including a peacock, a deer, and a chameleon. The sleeping lion refers to a story in the Golden Legend, a popular medieval book devoted to the lives of the saints, in which Jerome miraculously healed and tamed the injured beast. It became his faithful companion, even bringing firewood to Jerome and his followers (note the woodcutters). Behind Jerome, in the distance, is a symbolic representation of Rome, a city he abandoned for a more spiritual life in the Holy Land. There, as depicted in this painting, he lived as a monk in the wilderness. 

One of the most important figures in the development of the early Christian church, Jerome is shown surrounded by books—a reference to his devotion to scriptural studies, his fame as an author, and his authoritative translation of the Old and New Testaments into Latin.

This work is currently on view in Gallery 19 at the Toledo Museum of Art.