Saint Jerome Reading

Rembrandt Van Rijn
Saint Jerome Reading

An original Rembrandt Van Rijn etching.


Original etching printed in black ink on laid paper

Signed in the plate lower left Rembrandt f., dated in the plate lower right 1634.

A superb 17th century/lifetime impression of Bartsch and New Hollstein’s only state of this rare etching (characterized by G.W. Nowell-Usticke in his 1967 catalogue Rembrandt’s Etchings: States and Values as “a scarce print” and assigned his scarcity rating of “R+” [75-125 impressions extant in that year]).

Catalog: Bartsch 100; Hind 119; Biorklund-Barnard 34-H; Usticke 100 i/ii; New Hollstein 126.

This etching depicts St. Jerome, who spent part of his life in retreat in the desert.  He is one of the four patriarchs of the western church and is particularly known for his translation of the Bible into Latin.  For this reason he was often portrayed as a scholar in a study, but after the Counter-reformation he was mostly represented in Italian art as a semi-naked, penitent old man, who chastises himself with a stone.  According to legend, he had helped the lion usually depicted close to him by removing a painful thorn from its paw, after which the animal remained with him.
Rembrandt must have had a marked liking for this saint, since he made no fewer than seven etchings of him.  In the predominantly protestant Holland of the seventeenth century the choice of a Catholic subject like this was indeed remarkable, but the saint also performed an exemplary role for scholars and humanists, and there are moreover reasons to suppose that Rembrandt was responding to examples by distinguished graphic artists from the past.
The portrayal in this etching of 1634 belongs in the tradition of Jerome as a man of learning in the wilderness.  The saint, dressed in a fur-trimmed robe, sits reading under a tree, beside which, on the left, a shelter can be made out with some difficulty.  Remarkably enough the saint’s usual attributes, such as his cardinal’s hat and his crucifix, are absent, so that the lion is the only indication that this is not just an anonymous hermit.