Saint Jerome in meditation
In a luminous landscape permeated by an atmosphere of subtle melancholy, Jerome is presented as a hermit with a hard gaze, revealing the fatigue of penance. Seated on bare rock, in reference to the period of hermitage in the desert of Chalcis, south of Aleppo, the Saint is accompanied by the attributes that iconographic tradition assigns to him: the cardinal's hat, the lion, visible on the left-hand margin of the painting, and the open book, indicating the long period of study that led him to translate the Bible from the ancient Greek and Hebrew version to the Latin "Vulgate".
The slender, sinuous figure of the tree on the left recalls a benign nature that offers shelter to the lion and possibilities of life to the ivy. Its wood is also a symbol of the cross of Christ: under the branches runs the diagonal that connects and binds the gazes of Saint Jerome and the lion, passing through the naked white skull, a symbolic reference to the fragility of human existence. Balance and harmony of creation are thus reorganised at the foot of the tree-cross. Attributed to Garofalo only in the mid-20th century, the panel can be compared with two other paintings by the artist depicting the same subject: one preserved in the Kress collection [New Orleans, Isaac Delgado Museum of Art, Kress collection K. 1111] and the better known Saint Jerome in the Gemäldegalerie di Berlino [Staatliche Museen zu Berlin,Gemäldegalerie, inv. 243].
A. Neppi, Il Garofalo, Benvenuto Tisi, Milano 1959; A. M. Fioravanti Baraldi, Il Garofalo. Benvenuto Tisi pittore (c. 1476-1559). Catalogo generale, Rimini 1993; A. Pattanaro, ad vocem “Garofalo”, in Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, Vol. 95 (2019), con bibliografia precedente. https://www.treccani.it/enciclopedia/tisi-benvenuto-detto-garofalo_%28Dizionario-Biografico%29