- Museum number
- Object: Icon with St Jerome
Icon painted in egg tempera, with gilding, on cyprus wood prepared with gesso. St Jerome is depicted extracting the thorn from the lion's paw. He wears a cardinal's red cloak and hat, and is seated on a massive throne in front of a lectern upon which is placed an open, inscribed book. The inscription on the book is in Latin in black letters: IRAM VINCE PATIE(N)CIA. AM(A) S(C)IE(N)CIA(M)Z SCRIPT(U)RARVM CARNIS VINSIA NO(N) AMAB(IS) (‘Overcome wrath through patience; love the knowledge of the Scriptures and you will not love the sins of the flesh’). In the rocky landscape, a three-aisled basilica appears at the right.
- Production date
Height: 352 millimetres
Weight: 1.50 kilograms
Width: 283 millimetres
Depth: 40 millimetres
- Curator's comments
The icon represents an episode from the second version of the Life (Vita Secunda) of St Jerome. The episode is also included, with slight variations, in the medieval collection of Saints’ Lives known as the Golden Legend (Ring 1945; Rice 1985; Dunn-Lardeau 1997). According to this text, the saint, while preaching to his disciples in the monastery he had founded in Bethlehem, tamed a wild lion in pain by extracting, with his quill pen as a tool, a thorn from its paw. The saint in the icon is depicted as an elderly cardinal with halo, seated on a massive wooden-carved throne in a rocky landscape with sparse low trees. Cinnabar red emphasizes the red hat (galerus ruber) and the long hooded furry mantle (cappa magna), that identifies the rank of cardinal from the 13th century onwards. A three-aisled wooden-roofed basilica with arched openings and late-Gothic architectural ornaments appears on the right. A wooden lectern to the saint’s left supports an open book with inscription. The text paraphrases, in majuscule Gothic lettering, an extract from St Jerome’s Letters (Wright 1933) -where the inscriptions included in the western representations of the saint typically derive from (Kaftal 1978). The episode has been interpreted as the victory of virtue over vice (Russo 1987; Ribberdos 1984).
St Jerome died in 420 (BHL 1898-1901), and was famous for his learning and literary activity. He was the translator of the Greek Bible into Latin (the Vulgate). He was one the most popular dottores ecclesiae in the West. His depictions as a cardinal in a studio or in a desert landscape curing the lion and as a monk in penitence were already known in western iconography by the 9th century (Jungblut 1967). They became popular during the 14th century, first in the art of north and central Italy, mainly Tuscany (Cormack 2007; Friedmann 1980) and, later, in Flemish paintings and German engravings (Constantoudaki-Kitromilides 1998).
The same elements of the scene with the lion in the British Museum icon appear in three wooden panels painted in a similar style: an icon with St Jerome with the Lion at the Academy of Concordi in Rovigo, Italy (Romagnolo 1981), an icon at the David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art in Chicago (no. K 1109: Shapley 1966) and a wooden panel that used to belong to the Raimond van Marle collection in Perugia, Italy (van Marle 1936). The provenance of the style of all four pieces is highly contentious: their ancestry is not generically either Western or Byzantine. This led to the attribution, in previous literature, of the British Museum icon to a 14th or 15th century ‘Venetian’ or ‘Venetian/Dalmatian’ location (van Marle 1924; Kondakov 1927; Ring 1945; Davies 1951; Palluchini 1964; Davies 1988). Only recently, the icon has been assigned to a late 15th century Cretan painter (Buckton 1994; Constantoudaki-Kitromilides 1998, 194, n. 7; Constantoudaki-Kitromilides 2011, 331–2, fig. 1).
The heavy garments of St Jerome, characteristic of the ‘late-Gothic style’, that must have fascinated John Ruskin, the original owner of the panel, as well as the large solid throne, seem to point directly to the West, and to Tuscan and early Renaissance paintings in particular. The rendering, however, of the perspective as well as the face and hands of the saint betray a painter familiar with the work of late Byzantine and early post-Byzantine painters such as the Cretan Angelos Akotantos (d. c.1450), Andreas (d. 1492) and, mainly, Nikolaos Ritzos (d. 1503). The British Museum icon bears strong stylistic affinities with the icon with Sts Augustine, Jerome and Benedict now at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. Both of them have been attributed recently to a 15th century painter from Venetian Crete and, at the same time linked with the patronage of Cardinal Bessarion (formerly the Greek bishop of Nicaea but later after his conversion to Catholicism he was appointed a cardinal by the Pope). He died in 1472 (Constantoudaki-Kitromilides 1998; Kotoula 2011).
Bessarion supported the reunion of the Orthodox and Catholic churches, and was known particularly to admire the personality and work of St Jerome, a cardinal himself of the early Christian church. He owned a number of copies of St Jerome’s Letters, while the two-volume parchment codex of 1468, which bears his signature, includes an extended version of the episode with the lion (Marc. Lat. Membr. 1-2 (no. 88454), vol.1, fol. 8v-9r). Bessarion befriended the humanist and scholar Nicolaus Cusanus, a fervent admirer too of St Jerome (Constantoudaki- Kitromilides 1998, 213-14). At the same time he maintained throughout his career strong links with Crete, and with Candia in particular (Saffrey 1994), where the Franciscan order had established a monastery with a chapel dedicated to St Jerome (Vassilaki 2009, 247). In 1462, Bessarion founded in Candia a fund to sponsor and promote the pro-unionist interests on the island (Tsirpanles 1967). In this context, his personal connection with the Cretan icons of the British and the Fitzwilliam Museums appears a reasonable hypothesis.
Representations of St Jerome were not unknown to late-Byzantine and early post-Byzantine painting (Vassilaki 2009, 245, n. 48). Although Western saints, such as Sts Francis and Bartholomew, were included in the fresco cycles of Cretan churches as early as the 13th century (Vassilaki-Mavrakaki 1982), representations of the episode of St Jerome curing the lion appeared in Cretan icon painting during the late 15th century. Their iconography seems to have been influenced by a similar episode from the Byzantine cycle of St Jerome (Baltoyanni 2003, 208-211).
The lion, reclining at the feet of the saint, the cardinal’s official garments and the basilica at the background are found in representations of St Jerome in the late 15th and 16th centuries, such as the Geneva triptych attributed to Andreas Pavias (Frigerio-Zeniou and Martiniani-Reber 2006), two small icons in the National Museum of Ravenna (Pavan 1979 and Angiolini-Martinelli 1982) and the Musei Civici in Padova (Chatzidakis 1993, 120-1, no. 27) as well as a small icon now in a private collection in Switzerland (Constantoudaki-Kitromilides 2011, 355, fig. 18). Others omit the basilica in the background, such as the Vatican triptych attributed to Angelos or his circle (Bianco-Fiorin 1995; Vassilaki 2009, 19, fig. 6.11), the London triptych attributed to the cycle of Pavias (Baltoyanni 2003, 212-15, no. 36, figs 72-5), as well as three works signed by or attributed to Angelos Pitzamanos and his circle -the Athens Byzantine and Christian Museum icon (Chatzidakis 1993, 123, fig. 14), the predella executed in 1518 now in the Dubrovnik Monastery of the Franciscans (Weitzmann et.al. 1982; Vassilaki 2009, 244-5, figs 11.13 and 11.14) and a triptych leaf now in a private collection in London (Baltoyanni 2003, 313; Sotheby’s 2001) all echo the British Museum panel.
The conclusion is that either Bessarion himself or someone close to him promoted the connection between the scholar monk and cardinal Jerome and the catholic convert Bessarion, also a monk and cardinal. This panel evokes the connection pictorially.
Literature: Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Antiquae et Mediae Aetatis, ed. Société des Bollandistes, Subsidia Hagiographica 6, Brussells, Société des Bollandistes, 1898-1901, 1102-–143 and 1102a–1143k; R. van Marle, The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting, The Hague, 1924, vol. IV, 39; N. Kondakov, The Russian Icon, Oxford, 1927, 74, n. 2; F. A. Wright, Select Letters of St Jerome with an English Translation, London-New York, 1933, 200 and 209; R. van Marle, The Development of Italian Schools of Painting, vol. XVIII, The Hague, 1936, 550–01, pl. 289; G. Ring, 'St Jerome extracting the thorn from the lion's foot', The Art Bulletin 27 (1945), 188–94, esp. 189, fig. 8; M. Davies, The Earlier Italian Schools, London, 1951, 422; R. Pallucchini, La Pittura Veneziana del Trecento, Venice-Rome, 1964, 216, pl. 678; F.R. Shapley, Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. Italian Schools, XIII-XV Centuries, London, 1966, 11–12, pl. 26; Z. N. Tsirpanles, Το κληροδότημα του καρδιναλίου Βησσαρίονος για τους φιλενωτικούς της βενετοκρατούμενης Κρήτης (1439-17ος αi.), Thessaloniki, 1967, 81; R. Jungblut, Hieronymus: Darstellung und Verehrung eines Kirchenvaters, Urlaub, 1967; Greek Icons, 15th-18th Century, New Grecian Gallery, London, 1973; J.N.D. Kelly, Jerome. His Life, Writings and Controversies, London, 1975; G. Kaftal, Iconography of the Saints in the Painting of North East Italy, Florence, 1978, col. 477; G. Pavan (ed.), Icone dalle Collezioni del Museo Nazionale di Ravenna (exh. cat. Museo Nazionale), Ravenna, 96, no. 161, 197; H. Friedmann, A Bestiary for St Jerome. Animal Symbolism in European Religious Art, Washington D.C. 1980, 244; A. Romangolo, La Pinacoteca dell’ Academia dei Concordi, Rovigo, 1981, 293, pl. 267; P. Angiolini-Martinelli, Le icone della collezione classense di Ravenna, Bologna, 1982, 269, no. 161; K. Weitzmann, G. Albegansvili, A. Volskaya, G. Babić, M. Chatzidakis, M. Alpatov, T. Voinescu, The Icon, New York, Paris, 1982, 312 and 326; M. Vassilaki-Mavrakaki, 'Western influences on the fourteenth-century art of Crete', XVI Internationaler Byzantinistenkongress. Akten II/5, Jahrbuch der Österreichischen Byzantinistik 32/5 (1982), 301–11, esp. 303–04, pls 6–8; B. Ridderbos, Saint and Symbol: Images of St Jerome in Early Renaissance Art, Croningen, 1984, 37, 97, pl. 18; E.F. Rice Jr., St Jerome in the Renaissance, Baltimore and London, 1985, 23-–, 208–09; D. Russo, Saint Jerôme en Italie. Étude d’ iconographie et de spiritualité (XIII-XV siécles), Paris-Rome, 1987, 50 and 141–2; M. Davies, The Early Italian Schools: Before 1400, revised by D. Gordon, London, 1988, 117–8, pl. 82 (note by Minns); N. Chatzidakis, From Candia to Venice. Greek Icons in Italy 15th-16th century, Museo Correr, Venice, 1993; D. Buckton, Byzantium: Treasures of Byzantine Art and Culture from British Collections, London, 1994, no. 229 (entry by V. Foundoulaki); H. D. Saffrey, 'Bessarione e Creta', in G. Fiaccadori (ed.), Bessarione e l’ Umanesimo (exh. cat. Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana), Venice-Naples, 1994, 241–5; M. Bainco-Fiorin, Icone della Pinacoteca Vaticana, Vatican, 1995, 15, no. 2; Br. Dunn-Lardeau (ed.), Jacque de Voragine, La Légende Dorée, édition critique, dans la révision de 1476 par Jean Batallier, d'après la traduction de Jean de Vignay (1333-1348) de la Legenda aurea (c. 1261-1266), Paris, 1997, 141, 935–42; M. Constantoudaki- Kitromilides, 'St Jerome with the lion in icons of the Cretan School. The theme and its symbolism', Ἁνθηχαριτον: Studies by the researchers of the Hellenic Institute in Venice on the occasion of the celebrations for the five hundred years from the establishment of the Greek-Orthodox community in the Venice and the four hundred years from the establishment of the Institute printed with care and corrected by Nikolaos Panagiotakes, Venice, 1998, 193–226, esp. 206–08; Sotheby’s, The Greek Sale, 18 October 2001, London, 2001, 10, fig. 1; C. Baltoyanni, Icons. Christ in the Incarnation and the Passion, Athens, 2003; C. Campbell and A. Chong, Bellini and The East (exh. cat., The National Gallery), London, 2005, 37, fig. 15; S. Frigerio-Zeniou and M. Martiniani-Reber, Icȏnes de la Collection du Musée d’ Art et d’ Histoire de Genève, Geneva-Milan, 2006, 15-–0, no. 3; R. Cormack, Icons, London, 2007 (repr. 2014), no. 26, 102–03, 119; M. Vassilaki, The Painter Angelos and Icon-Painting in Venetian Crete, Ashgate, Farnham, 2009; M. Vassilaki (ed.), The Hand of Angelos. An Icon Painter in Venetian Crete (exh. cat. The Benaki Museum), Athens, 2010; M. Constantoudaki- Kitromilides, ‘St Jerome as church father and hermit in icons of the Cretan School’, Proceedings of the 10th International Cretological Congress (Chania, 1-8 October 2006), vol. II.2 (Byzantine and post-Byzantine period), Chania, 2011, 331–78; D. Kotoula, 'Icon of the Cretan art at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge', Proceedings of the 10th International Cretological Congress, vol. II.2 (Byzantine and post-Byzantine period), Chania, 2011, 379–95.
- On display (G46/dc3)
- Exhibition history
2019 15 May-9 Sept, Hong Kong Heritage Museum, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2018 19 Apr-22 Jul, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Valenciennes, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2017 28 Jun-08 Oct, Shanghai Museum, Shanghai, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2017 1 Mar-31 May, National Museum of China, Beijing, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2016-2017 08 Sep-29 Jan, National Museum of Australia, Canberra, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2016 13 Feb-18 Jun, National Museum of Western Australia, Perth, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2015-2016 20 Sep-11 Jan, Kobe City Museum, Kobe, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2015 14 Jul–6 Sep, Kyushu National Museum, Dazaifu, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2015 18 Apr–28 Jun, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Tokyo, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2012-2013 Nov-Mar, Bonn, Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2010 16 Nov-2011 16 Jan, Greece, Athens, Benaki Museum, The Hand of Angelos
2006 12 Apr-25 Jun, London, National Gallery, Bellini and the East
2004 26 Jun-29 Aug, Niigata Bandaijima Art Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2004 10 Apr-13 Jun, Fukuoka Art Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2004 17 Jan-28 Mar, Kobe City Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2003 18 Oct-14 Dec, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
- Good, apart from the new golden background, the re-painted figure of the lion, and an accidental circular damage by the animal's head.
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Once in the possession of John Ruskin, the panel was given by its owner to the painter William Ward (1829-1908). Alfred A. de Pass (according to a label on the back) purchased it from Ward before 1905 when it was exhibited at the Burlington Fine Arts Club (no. 8). It was presented to the National Gallery in 1920 (no. 3543) and transferred to the British Museum in 1994.
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: IC 26 (Icon Collection number)