Saint Jerome in the Wilderness
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Ercole de"Roberti
Italian, about 1470
Tempera on panel
13 3/8 x 8 11/16 in.

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For four years, Saint Jerome retreated to the desert, where he purified his soul through physical suffering. The bearded saint sits in front of a barren and rocky background, his emaciated body a testament to his ascetic life. He directs his gaze to a crucifix that he holds in his left hand. During his time of religious contemplation, Saint Jerome was tormented by vivid hallucinations; his right hand clasps a rock with which he would beat his breast until the visions passed. A nook in the vaulted structure behind him holds his attributes: a cardinal's hat and a book referring to his translation of the Bible into Latin. A small lion inside the shelter recalls the fable in which Jerome pulls a thorn from a lion's paw, forever securing the animal's devotion. Ercole de'Roberti was artist to the court of Ferrara in northern Italy. The elongated forms, taut, linear rhythms, subtle colors, and meticulous, gold-flecked details of this painting convey the sophistication prized by Ercole's aristocratic patrons. This small devotional painting demands a focused concentration from the viewer that echoes Jerome's efforts to come closer to God.