Landscape with Saint Jerome1516 - 1517. Oil on panel, 74 x 91 cm.
Patinir shows St Jerome sitting inside the wooden shack that leans against the rocks in the foreground. As with the Landscape with the Martyrdom of St Catherine in Vienna (Kunsthistorisches Museum), the painter here raises the line of the horizon, leading to an increase in the space devoted to the landscape and the consequent reduction of the sky (although this has been cut down still further, it should be recalled, by the disappearance of the curved upper portion of the picture). Patinir may have taken his inspiration for the features of the landscape from Namur, since the bare outcrops of jagged rock are reminiscent of that region. The position occupied by the saint on the left of the panel, together with the rocky outcrops, make this the most dynamically balanced of the painter`s works. It is divided into two parts. On the left and in the foreground to the right is the solitude of nature, representative of the desert to which St Jerome has retired. Further towards the background in the centre and on the right is everyday, earthly activity.
In the Prado picture, he developed the model which had been used by the first Flemish painters of the fifteenth century, from Rogier van der Weyden to Memling, which shows the saint extracting the thorn from the lion`s foot in a cave amidst the solitude of nature. In this way, Patinir incorporated the apocryphal passage on the saint`s life in Jacobus De Voragine`s Golden Legend, who situates this episode outside the monastery of Bethlehem in the presence of the friars, and not when St Jerome is on his own as in the Prado panel. In this, the artist follows both Weyden and Memling, but he departs from them in showing the lion with its mouth open, roaring in pain. If Patinir`s St Jerome at the Prado is compared with the works of the painters who preceded him in following this type of iconography, it can be seen that he stood apart from tradition not only in the absolute prominence accorded to the landscape over the figures, but also in the fact that the saint is not dressed as a cardinal, nor does he have the robes and hat of the cardinalate next to him. Another novelty aspect of the Prado St Jerome, apparently traditional, is the inclusion of the skull resting against the rock next to the cross, since this memento mori of Italian origin joined the saint`s iconography when he was represented in his study, the first to do so in Northern painting being Albrecht Durer in his 1514 engraving of St Jerome, one of his Meisterstiche. As he did in his other versions of St Jerome`s penitence in the desert, save for the Karlsruhe panel, Patinir incorporates passages from the story of the lion in Jacobus de Voragine`s Golden Legend, which he distributes around various areas of the picture. Nearly in the centre of the composition, to the right of the rock against which the saint`s shack is leaning, the ass is seen carrying wood in the middle ground. In the company of a monk, it is on its way up to the monastery on the other side. There too is the caravan of camels, shown twice. In accordance with the innovative character of the motifs introduced by Patinir, the Prado panel also includes another passage of the story of the lion as related by Voragine. When the stolen ass is recognized, the lion runs to rejoin it, and the ass does likewise, ignoring its rider and nearly throwing him off.
The analysis of the underlying drawing with the multitude of changes made even at this stage of the creative process, though noticeable above all in the painting phase, allows us to corroborate that the Prado St Jerome was a prototype developed by Patinir on the basis of earlier experiments in the representation of the same subject. Although other artists may have collaborated on the figures in other works by Patinir, this is not the case in the Prado panel, where St Jerome displays the features regarded as typical of the painter and defined by Robert Koch in his monograph on the artist (Silva, P.: Patinir. Essays and critical catalogue, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2007, pp. 292-303).