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Albrecht Dürer, Saint Jerome

Key facts
Full title Saint Jerome
Artist Albrecht Dürer
Artist dates 1471 - 1528
Date made about 1496
Medium and support Oil on pearwood
Dimensions 23.1 × 17.4 cm
Acquisition credit Bought with the assistance of the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund and Mr J. Paul Getty Jr through the American Friends of the National Gallery, London, 1996
Inventory number NG6563
Location Room 25
Collection Main Collection
Saint Jerome
Albrecht Dürer

This small double-sided painting was most probably made for private worship. The front shows Saint Jerome kneeling in front of a crucifix wedged into the stump of a tree. He beats his chest with a rock in empathy with Christ’s Passion (his torture and death at the Crucifixion). The lion resting beside him was his companion from the moment he removed a thorn from its foot.

Dürer’s version of the desert – or wilderness – in which the saint lived for years is particularly northern European. The grasses and flowers around his knees, for example, are closely observed and include a number of different varieties. Two little goldfinches perch by the edge of a stream, one drinking from it (the bird was traditionally a symbol of Christ’s Passion).

The reverse depicts a dark sky and what might be planets, a comet or meteorite or an eclipse, possibly a reference to Saint John the Evangelist’s descriptions of the end of the world as recorded in the Book of Revelation.

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