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Work Saint Jerome in the Desert
Department of Paintings: Dutch painting
Saint Jérôme dans le désert
© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier
Patinir and the landscape
One of the key events in late-15th-century painting was the emergence in the Netherlands of a new genre that would become very popular: the landscape. Patinir of Antwerp was the first artist to be described as a "landscape painter," and Dürer himself used this term in connection with his work. The painting in the Louvre contains all of the characteristic elements of Patinir's landscapes: an expansive view taking in undulating plains, rocks, and a river, all of which are unified by a subtle spectrum of blue-green hues. Depth is suggested by the superposition of backgrounds marked by clearer and clearer colors further back (atmospheric perspective). This technique would be taken up in the 16th century by painters such as Paul Bril and Joos de Momper, and later would be introduced into Italy. The most frequently employed composition involves a dark foreground with a lighter background of green tones and a blue ground.
Saint Jerome is, along with Saint Gregory the Great, Saint Augustine, and Saint Ambrose, one of the four doctors of the Church. He was born around 340 at Stridon on the border of Dalmatia and Pannonia. He was educated in Rome under the tutelage of the famous grammarian Donatus. After being baptized, he undertook a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He then retired into the desert in Syria to pay penitence and to live as a hermit. Upon returning to Rome in 382, he was commissioned by Pope Damasus to translate the Bible from the original Hebrew and Greek into Latin (the Vulgate). The translation was completed in Palestine, where the saint retired after the death of the pope. He died in 420. He is the patron saint of theologians and scholars.
Between a religious painting and an anecdotal scene
The painting shows Saint Jerome sheltering under a makeshift hut during his retreat in the desert. He is dressed in a gray tunic, the color of humility, and stands near a dead tree, a symbol of the soul tainted with sin. A cardinal's habits lie at the foot of the tree. Anecdotal figures and details, such as the dog to the left watching a bird in flight, several other animals, and the little village to the right, add life to the composition. The landscape, to which a purely aesthetic value is too often attributed, contributes to the religious message of the painting in that it represents the most obvious manifestation of divine creation.
Joachim PATINIR ou PATENIER (Bouvignes près de Dinant, vers 1474 - Anvers, 1524)
Saint Jérôme dans le désert
Vers 1515 - 1520
H. : 0,78 m. ; L. : 1,37 m.
Don Sir Joseph Duveen, Londres, 1923
Netherlands, first half of the 16th century
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