The years 1513 and 1514 were Albrecht Dürer’s most fruitful period for engravings. In this year alone, he produced eleven works. Among them, Saint Jerome in his Study stands out as one of the highlights. Together with Melencolia and Knight, Death and the Devil, also included in this sale (lots 3, 9 and 38), Saint Jerome is acknowledged as one of the three master engravings that represent the pinnacle of his achievement in the medium.
Saint Jerome depicts a warm and sunny interior with the scholarly saint seated at a writing desk in quiet contemplation. A sense of order and tranquillity prevails, in spite of the multitude of objects and figures in the room. The originality of the image lies in the evocative atmosphere and detailed setting. The window allows magical patterns of light to play on the arches, the ceiling beams and floor, giving the composition a variety of tone and contrasts.
The exchange and transmission of artistic ideas through print in Northern and Southern Europe can be seen in this work. Dürer had clearly taken inspiration from Italian artists, such as Vittore Carpaccio’s painting Saint Augustine in his Study (Venice, Scuola di S. Giorgio degli Schiavoni), which had just been completed when Dürer visited Venice again in 1504-07. This painting can be seen below, illustrating the similarities in both artists' compositions.The print was so popular with Dürer's contemporaries that more impressions of it were sold or given while he was in the Netherlands than any other print at the time.
‘In this work Albrecht represented a room with windows of glass, through which stream the rays of the sun, falling on the place where the Saint sits writing, with an effect so natural, that it is a marvel; besides which there are books, timepieces, writings, and so many other things, that nothing more and nothing better could be done in this field of art.’
Giorgio Vasari, Le Vite de' più eccellenti pittori, scultori, ed architettori, V