The Power of Absolution: Other Portrayals of Jerome

Lara Belfield

Portrayals of St. Jerome varied in their exact representations of the saint’s life.  Some artists chose to depict him during his time of penance in the wilderness, which often meant he was half-naked and physically castigating himself.  The other most common theme for St. Jerome was his work as a scholar, and artists would commonly illustrate him either reading or writing and dressed as a cardinal.[1]  As in Bernini’s St. Jerome, each of these themes often included the lion in order to clearly define the figure as the intellectual saint.

Tintoretto, Saint Jerome in the Wilderness Photo Credit: Louvre

Figure 21: Tintoretto, “Saint Jerome in the Wilderness,” 1580, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. 
Photo Credit: Louvre

A painting by Tintoretto from around 1580, entitled Saint Jerome in the Wilderness, shows the saint clothed in loose drapery, similar to Bernini’s sculpture, and includes the tamed lion (fig. 21).  At this moment, Jerome is punishing himself for his sins after his religious vision compelled him to exile himself to the desert and study the scriptures.  Therefore, this narrative would take place after that depicted by Bernini, so the overall composition is calmer and more representative of St. Jerome as an example of devoted worship and piety.

Another sculpture of St. Jerome, executed in 1956 by Ivan Mestrovic, shows the subject deeply entrenched in his studies (fig. 22).  Inscribed on the marble base is the title of the piece, “St. Jerome the Priest,” as well as the words, “Greatest Doctor of the Church.”  The bronze sculpture was originally placed on the grounds of the Franciscan Abbey when the Croatian Fathers commissioned it in the 1950’s.  However, it was moved to the front of the Croatian Embassy after Yugoslavia dissolved and Croatia was created.[2]  St. Jerome is shown studying the Bible, therefore placing the narrative after his religious conversion in 375.  This more modern representation of St. Jerome is entirely focused on his role as scholar and theologian.  The emotion often seen in other depictions is gone, replaced by a studious sense of tranquility.  This modern sculpture utilizes a minimalist style to direct the viewer’s attention to St. Jerome and his studies.

Ivan Mestrovic, St. Jerome the Priest, 1956. Photo Credit: Michael E. Grass

Figure 22: Ivan Mestrovic, “St. Jerome the Priest,” 1956, Croatian Embassy, Washington, D.C.
Photo Credit: Michael E. Grass

[1] Grete Ring, “St. Jerome Extracting the Thorn from the Lion’s Foot,” The Art Bulletin 27, no. 3 (Sep. 1945): 188.