This small picture shows two episodes from the life of Saint Jerome. At the front, the saint sits under a lean-to shelter and removes a large thorn from a lion’s paw. In gratitude the lion remained with him in the wilderness and after he went back to monastic life. On a rocky platform behind, the saint appears again, dressed as a cardinal, with two men leading camels and a donkey. The men are merchants who stole the monastery’s donkey; the lion recovered it.
The painting has been cut down on the right. It originally looked like a painting in Wuppertal (Von der Heydt Museum) which includes other incidents from the story. There are several variants of this subject, one of which, now in the Prado, Madrid, is signed by Joachim Patinir. It is possible that all were being worked on at much the same time in his workshop.
This small picture shows two episodes from the life of Saint Jerome. At the front, the saint sits under a lean-to shelter, built against a natural rock arch in a dramatic landscape, and removes a large thorn from a lion’s paw. According to the Golden Legend, Saint Jerome met and healed an injured lion which then remained with him in the wilderness and after his return to monastic life. They are depicted together in the wilderness in Bellini’s Saint Jerome reading in a Landscape.
The arch leads to another rock, topped with buildings that are accessible only by a track of planks supported on posts; a man and his dog make their way up it. This is the monastery near Bethlehem where Jerome lived (the red objects hanging from the church tower could be nesting boxes for birds). On the grassy platform in front of the monastery a man dressed as a cardinal addresses two merchants. Their camels carry barrels, probably containing oil, and large greyish packs; a donkey grazes behind them. This figure is also Saint Jerome – he was often shown as a cardinal as he had been secretary to the pope. The Golden Legend tells how the lion guarded the donkey that carried firewood for the monastery, and when passing merchants stole the animal the lion recovered it. The merchants came to the monastery to ask Jerome’s forgiveness and gave him oil.
This picture has been cut down on the right; the strip of wood along the edge was created by scraping away the paint and ground to match the other unpainted edges. It originally looked very like a version of the subject in the Von der Heydt Museum, Wuppertal, which includes other incidents from the story. There are variants of the scene in the Prado, Madrid, in the Louvre, Paris and elsewhere, some closer to our painting than others. It seems impossible to work out the exact stages by which the composition evolved. The Prado painting is signed by Joachim Patinir and it’s possible that all of them were being worked on at much the same time in his workshop, probably before 1518. Ideas tried out in one painting were sometimes taken up in another or others.
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