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Saint Jerome in Penitence, 1798

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes

Spanish, 1746-1828
Oil on canvas
75-1/8 x 45 in. (190.8 x 114.3 cm)
The Norton Simon Foundation
F.1970.08.P
© 2012 The Norton Simon Foundation

On view

An early Christian scholar, St. Jerome produced the first Latin translation of the Bible. He lived the life of an ascetic for four years in the desert while studying and praying to free himself from worldly desire. Emaciated and scantily clad, here he contemplates a crucifix in his harsh wilderness retreat. Around him lie his books and writing materials, as well as the scourge used for his repentant self-reproof and a skull (the symbol of death) that served as aids in spiritual contemplation. In his hand he holds the stone with which he beat his breast in penitence.

Goya’s beautifully rendered St. Jerome in Penitence may have originally formed part of a series of the four Fathers of the Church, along with his St. Ambrose (Cleveland Museum of Art), St. Gregory (Museo Romántico, Madrid) and St. Augustine (private collection). However, while all of these paintings are almost identical in size, the intimate depiction of St. Jerome as the fervent anchorite contrasts starkly with the less spontaneous and more classical depiction of the other church fathers in their sumptuous Roman liturgical robes.

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