“St Jerome in his study” is a famous Antonello da Messina’s painting. A painting by Jan Van Eyck, the most famous Flemish painter, representing the same subject was probably seen by Antonello da Messina in Naples.
Between the 4th and 5th centuries Saint Jerome translated the Bible into Latin and in the painting the saint is depicted concentrated in his study. In the background on the right the lion recalls the story according to which Saint Jerome, living as a hermit in the desert, earned the animal’s friendship by removing a thorn from its paw. The saint is surrounded by the characteristic objects of a churchman, such as the robe and the cardinal’s hat on the pew, but also with a lectern and shelves full of books and objects.
Jerome wears the cardinal’s purple in a small study inside a church or monastery. We see him through an archway: the perspective draws a deep space. The light brings out the details and all the objects are depicted with extreme precision, as in Flemish painting: the parchment sheets and the leather bindings of the books, the wooden boxes, the ceramic or metal vases.
Thanks to oil painting Antonello da Messina is able to paint the details in a meticulous, almost “photographic” way.
In this small painting we find the monumentality of Saint Jerome, typical of the painting tradition of the South, and the descriptive details and luminous effects typical of the painting tradition of the North.