Unknown Artist, Peru, Saint Jerome in the Desert, 1750
Denver Art Museum Collection: Gift by exchange of Althea Revere, 1971.464
Photograph courtesy of the Denver Art Museum
This painting depicts a scene from the life of Saint Jerome (ca. 347-420), a priest, confessor, theologian, and Doctor of the Church, perhaps best known for his translation of the Bible into Latin. Here Jerome is shown as a penitent hermit during his retreat to the Syrian Desert where he is said to have lived for a number of years engaged in intense prayer and study. Within a rocky cave, Jerome kneels in penitential prayer before a small sculpture of the crucified Christ that he holds in his left hand. He has removed his red Cardinal’s robe, hat, and shoes, which lay on the ground around him, and holds in his right hand a rock, a tool for the corporeal self-mortification he is about to perform. Jerome’s primary attribute, a maned lion, stands before him. On the desk, books and writing implements refer to the scholarly life, while the human skull acts as a reminder—to both Jerome and the painting’s viewers—of the impermanence of the earthly, human world.
The inscription in gold along the right side of the canvas indicates that the painting was commissioned by Don Andrés Miguel and finished on March 21, 1750. Although the artist is unknown, the painting was likely made in Spanish South America, possibly Cuzco, Peru. The fairly standard composition was likely based on a print. However, the painter’s skill is evident throughout the canvas, in particular in the evocative mountainous landscape rendered in shades of blue and green and the delicate modeling of Christ’s face and body. In addition, the intricate floral and lace designs on the textiles are exquisitely executed with gold leaf or paint, a technique characteristic of painting from eighteenth-century Cuzco and other artistic centers in the Andean highlands. The high quality of the painting and the extensive use of gold suggest that the donor, Don Andrés Miguel, was a prosperous individual, perhaps in some way associated with the monastic Order of Saint Jerome.
The inscription at right reads: "A devoción del Don Andrés Miguel, Se acabó […] 21 de Marzo a[ño] 1750”.
--Sabena Kull, 2017-18 Mayer Fellow for Spanish Colonial Art