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Saint Jerome at prayer

Painting, XVI century, 80.1×60.6 cm

Description of the artwork «Saint Jerome at prayer»

In the Museum of fine arts in Ghent (Belgium) presents two works by Hieronymus Bosch: the famous "Carrying the cross", the authenticity of which has lately put niderlandskij researchers in question, and "Saint Jerome in prayer". This panel is not as widely known as "carrying the cross", but its authorship is not in doubt (at least not yet).

"Saint Jerome in prayer" is written in the recognizable style of Hieronymus Bosch: a thin, elongated figure prostrated himself on the ground, embracing the crucifix, amongst the broken hollow trees (symbolizing life, devoid of God's presence) and the crumbling rotting of the fruit (representing the temptations of the saints affected the same way as mere mortals).

The images of the saints in the work of Hieronymus Bosch, not so much. But it is interesting that of all the known characters of the saints, Bosch gave preference to the ascetics – those who are in search of faith and truth departed from the world. These are St. Anthony the Central character of the eponymous boskhovskogo triptych; John The Theologian who retired to the island of Patmos, and there received the Revelation; so is St. Jerome. The artist had the name of this Saint, and thus could be considered Jerome as its patron Saint.


Sophronius Eusebius Jerome (342 – 416/420) is one of the most revered Christian saints, religious writer and scholar, who created a Latin translation of the Bible – the Vulgate. After eleven centuries, during Tridentcom Cathedral, it is the translation of Jerome Catholic Church recognizes as canonical. The Saint most often depicted with pen and book in hand at the moment when Jerome hears the trumpet.

But Bosch selects a different time for the image when Jerome retired to the desert of Chalcis, where his companions, as he wrote himself, was "only Scorpions Yes the savage beast." But then, in the absence of people nearby, Jerome, by his own admission, was beset with doubts and voluptuous vision, symbolized by the painting of the dilapidated trees and fruits that resemble the same characters of the unbelief, and lust of "The garden of earthly delights". At the time of tearing the soul of the Holy doubt rejected all his learning (as evidenced by lying on the ground book) and all his ambitious thoughts (they hinted a cardinal's cloak and hat, thrown under the feet) and fell on the ground, began to pray selflessly.

Animals and birds

In the right corner Bosch writes little lion. The lion is always depicted next to Jerome and is considered its symbol. This is due to the history of the life of the Saint: one day in the courtyard of the monastery, wandered hungry animal with a wounded paw. Terrified, the monks scattered in all directions, and soon Jerome was not afraid to come near the lion and removed the thorn from his paw. Since then, the lion become the faithful companion and defender Jerome. Some researchers have noted that Bosch it is rather like a cat, there is a back and frightened of something. What? Probably, the presence of demons near the Holy Hieronymus – Bosch them not showing, but this does not mean that they are not.
Perhaps the near presence of the dark forces implying darting everywhere lizards and newts.

In the dark lower left corner you can see the Fox curled up in a ball. The Fox – a traditional symbol of cunning and deception. In the religious picture of the world she could be the personification of the sinner, the heretic, and even the devil himself. Apparently, Fox is sleeping after dense dinner: far from it lying around the wing and the head of the cock. The rooster is the emblem of ostentation, arrogance and pride, however, in our case, all these vices ignominiously defeated.

If you draw a vertical line from the heart of Jerome down, you can see the duck in the swamp. It is during the time Bosch was considered "low bird", because "dives into the mud on the eyes", and so could impersonate a human heart, prone to impure thoughts.

Sitting on a dry bough the owl – a favorite way of Bosch – could symbolize the soul trapped in matter, and can be a messenger of the devil, his night spy. Owl – always a predator in search of prey. Perhaps this prey will soon be thrush (symbol of innocence), sitting high on a branch, or a female sitting on a nest egg. As you can see, birds have a Bosch often used in order to delegate them to human vices and virtues.

The background landscape

The landscape in the background resembles species of North Brabant, the birthplace of Hieronymus Bosch. In comparison with a dark foreground, full of anxiety and chaos, the landscape with hills running away into the distance, the water and the Church looks peaceful enough. Some experts at Bosch believe that the artist might be familiar with this opening of his Italian contemporaries Leonardo da Vinci as sfumato – the transfer of light and air with a slight blurring of objects.

In the works of Hieronymus Bosch, there is another, less known picture of St. Jerome is the Central part of the extremely poorly preserved triptych "Holy hermits" (The Palazzo Ducale, The Doge's Palace, Venice).

Author: Anna Yesterday
from 1450 rub
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About the artwork

Art form: Painting

Subject and objects: Religious scene

Style of art: Northern Renaissance

Technique: Oil

Materials: Wood

Date of creation: XVI century

Size: 80.1×60.6 cm

Artwork in selections: 10 selections

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