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St. Jerome in His Study

Albrecht Dürer

European Art

Saint Jerome in His Study is one of Albrecht Dürer’s three so-called master engravings, along with Knight, Death, and the Devil and Melencolia I, on view nearby. Each image emerges from the paper with extraordinary clarity, with different textures and minute gradations of light and shadow conjured from a careful, dense arrangement of inked marks and lines. Dürer’s contemporary, the scholar Erasmus of Rotterdam, praised the artist’s graphic brilliance, stating that he “could express absolutely anything in monochrome, that is with black lines only—shadows, light, reflections, emerging and receding forms.”

Like the Evangelists in Simon Bening’s nearby illuminations, Saint Jerome here appears at work in a cozy study rendered in careful perspective. The crucifix is a symbol of his faith, and the bishop’s hat and the hourglass hung from pegs allude to worldly life. Jerome’s tame lion dozes side by side with his dog. The skull on the sill is a symbol of mortality, while the large gourd suspended from the ceiling references the promise of resurrection. Rays of light passing through the bull’s-eye windows cast delicate shadows on the wall and floor, creating an atmosphere of harmony and light that evokes the contemplative life of the scholar.

Titus Kaphar: This one is much more spatial. . . .You can enter it. There’s rest. There are these elements in the space, but they’re more a part of the space. They’re part of the narrative, directly. This feels like there may very well have been a model sitting there in the studio. This is an actual space, and [Dürer] sat down and drew him. Then added these other sort of fanciful elements, but that feels like a real space. You get down to the knots, the specificity of the knots and the grains of the wood here, or the particular way that the light is passing through those . . multiple pane windows. It’s very specific.

[Saint Jerome] . . . was credited with translating the Bible. . . . When I did the Jerome Project paintings, and I started that, one of the questions I asked my father was, Where did his name come from? He told me that his father, who was a minister, and his mother, who was very deep in the church, gave him that name in honor of Saint Jerome as a sort of symbol of their value for the Bible, for scripture, for the words that they see as their bread of life. It’s really interesting to see Jerome here in this space, this imaginary, or not imaginary but very specific, space. And I imagine the relationship that my grandparents saw between this particular figure and this young man, who would become their son.

MEDIUM Engraving on laid paper
DATES 1515
DIMENSIONS 9 5/8 x 7 1/4 in. (24.4 x 18.4 cm)
SIGNATURE Monogram and date in plate.
INSCRIPTIONS Two indecipherable collectors stamps: a circle in red ink, recto; oval in purplish ink, verso
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
CREDIT LINE Gift of Mrs. Charles Pratt
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