Text copyright © July 7, 2013 Dr. Elizabeth A. Garner, All Rights Reserved
Dürer stopped manufacturing St. Jerome images after his 1496 engraving. until thiscomposition was published in 1511.
Notice the clue of the sundial and hourglass, clearly depicting the numeral “1.” Please see my article “What Time Is It?” to understand what type of clue Dürer gives us, for he is certainly giving us a coded message of some sort.
And then we have this woodblock print Dürer made in 1512. The print is very small but there are encoded messages throughout. Please pay attention to what makes the canopy over St. Jerome’s head.
- The 1512 copperplate drypoint, one of only three drypoints made, of St Jerome by the Pollard Willow
And then we have the 1512 copperplate drypoint St. Jerome in the Wilderness. Look very closely at this drypoint for it tells us that Dürer does not like St. Jerome at all. Notice the body of the saint which is trans-sected by the desk; the top half of the body points one way and the bottom half of the body points the other way. In other words, St. Jerome is CROOKED.
Now take at look at the famous 1514 St. Jerome in the Study. We know that Dürer paired this print with Melencolia I seven times from his Diary of the Netherlands Journey of 1519-1520. He embedded these pairs among some of the richest and most politically influential people in the Holy Roman Empire. In essence, the story that Dürer tells us can only be understood by knowing that this St Jerome and Melencolia I are linked together and without understanding the messages given as a complete set, one cannot understand these prints separately.
This composition is highly encoded and we will only touch on a few of the major encoded symbols. First we see the “gourd” which was one of Jerome’s embarrassments with Augustine. Second, Dürer places a fox sleeping next to the lion. The fox symbol was a common medieval “slur” for cunning and untrustworthiness.
Third, what everyone has missed is the lion hidden in plain sight. Compare it with all the other lions Dürer has depicted. This lion is FEMALE, not male, it doesn’t have the flowing mane of a male lion. What is a female lion doing with St. Jerome?
And this is the final St Jerome, made in 1521 by Dürer in Antwerp in March 1521 and presented to his friend Rodrigo Fernandez d’Almada. He wrote in his diary: `I painted a Jerome carefully in oils and gave it to Rodrigo of Portugal.’ The panel was displayed in the merchant’s private chapel in Antwerp and was later taken back to Portugal.
What an understatement Dürer made when he said “I painted this Jerome carefully in oils.” For he left one of the most negative clues about Jerome hidden in plain sight in this painting for Rodrigo. Pay attention to the skull and it’s construction, Dürer has used this trick often early in his career. It’s not the lower jaw of a human skull.