St. Jerome in a Landscape
Herri met de Bles ( Flemish, 1500 - 1560 )
- about 1540
At the center of this sweeping panorama of fields, mountains, coast and sea, Saint Jerome has thrown off his cardinal’s red hat and cloak and kneels, praying to a crucifix propped up in front of him. At his feet is a skull, symbol of his meditations on the brevity of life, and his most famous attribute, a lion, which Jerome tamed by removing a thorn from its paw. While the saint is depicted in the foreground and gives the work its title, the painting’s real subject is the landscape itself: rocks, trees, boats, houses and numerous people and animals painted in granular detail, allowing the viewer to meditate on the variety of divine creation. In Italy, where he enjoyed considerable fame, Bles was known as il Civetta (the little owl), owing to the owl that often acted as his whimsical signature. Here, the bird peeps out of a small crevasse in the rockface above Saint Jerome. This painting spent many years in storage before being recently brought back to life in the museum’s conservation studio.
Julien Domercq, Label text (1987.21), 2020