Fig. 1. Albrecht Dürer, Saint Jerome, Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon, inv. no. 828, Bridgeman Images

This portrayal of Saint Jerome in his Study is of a very high quality, painted in 1533 by an accomplished Flemish hand. It is characterized by a painstaking attention to detail, both in the rendering of Saint Jerome and in the sculptural embellishments that surround him in his study. A window at left illuminates Jerome’s contemplative face and distinctly drawn features, from the furrow of his brow to the long and flowing tendrils of his beard. His right hand supports the ponderous weight of his head, while the index finger of his left rests firmly on a skull, which, like the candle nearby, is a symbol of the fragility of life. He is surrounded by ornate and intricately decorated items, from the bible in front of him to the luxurious metal objects that fill the interior space. A soft light highlights the elaborately designed surfaces of the metalwork found on the clock, the chandelier, and the hanging urn behind him. The light also draws the eye to the small niche in the background, in which can be found a small crucifix and sculptures of the Virgin and Saint John the Evangelist.

Fig. 2. Pieter Coecke van Aelst, Saint Jerome in His Study, oil on panel, sold Christie’s, New York, 2015

This composition ultimately derives from Albrecht Dürer’s celebrated work of the same subject that he painted in the Netherlands in 1521, which is today in the Museu Nacional de arte antigua in Lisbon (fig. 1).[1] Dürer’s Jerome left a strong impression on contemporary Netherlandish painters such as Joos van Cleve[2], Quentin Massys, and Pieter Coecke van Aelst[3], among others, all of whom explored the compositional tropes regularly in the years that followed. What differentiated Coecke van Aelst from other artists, however, was that in addition to his skills as an artist, he was also one of the earliest known artists who was also skilled in designing decorative objects[4], a skill that was translated into many of the painted objects in his compositions, as visible in his Saint Jerome in his Study that recently appeared at auction (fig. 2)[5]. The present panel is comparable in composition and detail to such examples as this. This panel also shares some stylistic similarities, particularly in the drawn quality of Jerome’s figure, to the group of works around the Master of the Lille Adoration[6], while the highly sculptural metalwork is also somewhat reminiscent of works by Mannerist artists active in Northern France during this period, such as the the Master of Amiens, an artist who had close contact to Antwerp through artists like Jan de Beer[7] .

Infrared imaging of the present panel provides insight into the mind of its confident author (fig. 3). It reveals a rather extensive network of distinct and vigorous underdrawing, which was used to capture the features of Jerome’s face, the folds of his costume, and the position of the bible and the stand upon which it rests. A number of small but notable changes are also visible in such images, including the placement of the fingers on both of his hands, including the index finger of his left hand, which was extended in length. It also reveals changes to the shape of the skull as well as to the positions of the candelabra and the lower section of the wooden stand in the foreground.

Fig. 3. IRR imaging of the present lot (INGAAS)

[1] F. Anzelewsky, Albrecht Dürer, 2 vols, Berlin 1991, vol. I, pp. 263–65, cat. no. 162, reproduced vol. II, fig. 176.
[2] See Harvard Art Museums, inv. No. 1962.26, oil on panel, 99.7 by 83.8 cm.
[3] G. Marlier, Pieter Coeck d'Alost, Brussels 1966, pp. 253-256, reproduced figs. 198-201.
[4] E. Cleland, Grand Design: Pieter Coecke van Aelst and Renaissance Tapestry, exhibition catalogue, New Haven and London 2014, pp. 82-84, cat. No. 15.
[5] Oil on panel, 81.2 by 64.1 cm, Sold, New York, Christie’s, 28 January 2015, lot 104, for $665,000.
[6] We are grateful to Dr. Ellen Konowitz for noting some stylistic similarities between the drawn quality of Jerome’s face and hands and the paintings grouped around the Master of the Lille Adoration.
[7] We are grateful to Till-Holger Borchert for suggesting a connection to Mannerist artists of Northwest France like the Master of Amiens.