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Giuseppe Maria Crespi, Saint Jerome in the Desert

Key facts
Full title Saint Jerome in the Desert
Artist Giuseppe Maria Crespi
Artist dates 1665 - 1747
Date made 1710-20
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 87 × 66.6 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1963
Inventory number NG6345
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Saint Jerome in the Desert
Giuseppe Maria Crespi

Saint Jerome, a fourth-century Christian scholar and hermit, is seated in a nocturnal landscape, absorbed in the book that lies open on his lap. He is celebrated for producing what is considered to be the first Latin translation of the Bible, known as the Vulgate. He spent four years living as a hermit in the desert, accompanied only by a lion. It lies quietly at his feet in this painting, light catching the glint of its eyes and nose.

Saint Jerome was a popular subject in Italian painting and is often depicted as a penitent in the desert, half-naked and lost in study or contemplation. This composition focuses our attention on Jerome, whose pale body gleams in the dark landscape. He is surrounded by his traditional attributes: a rock, with which he beat his breast in penitence; a crucifix, the focus of his meditation on Christ’s suffering; and a skull, which acts as a reminder of human mortality.

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