Luis de Morales, Spanish, c.1520-1586
Title: Saint Jerome in the Wilderness
Date: 1570s
Medium: Oil on canvas
62 x 46.5 cm
Credit Line: Purchased, 1872
Object Number: NGI.1
DescriptionThis mystical portrait of St Jerome is highly expressive of the physical abstinence and spiritual contrition sustained by the saint in the wilderness. Clasped in prayer, his hands rest on a skull, a well-known symbol of the transience of human life. Jerome is one of the four Doctors of the Latin Church, the founder of Western monasticism and translator of the Old and New Testaments. Devotion to him grew considerably after the middle of the sixteenth century, when he was seen as an example of the essential Christian virtues required for salvation.

Morales is one of the great visual interpreters of the Counter-Reformation in Spain. He is reputed to have trained in Seville under the Flemish artist Peter Kempeneer (naturalised as Pedro de Campaña). This Flemish influence left a deep impression on Morales, evident in his sculptural, carefully rendered figures, enhanced by strong shadowing. They tend to be depicted with highly wrought emotions in their appearance. His small works were often for private devotion.

(National Gallery of Ireland: Essential Guide, 2016)
ProvenancePossibly Christie's, London, 27 May 1853, Standish sale, lot 66; possibly Pearce; H. Waters; purchased, H. Waters, London, 1872
Exhibition HistoryFour Centuries of Spanish Painting, Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, Durham, 1967
Label TextOne of the great visual interpreters of the Counter-Reformation in Spain, Morales is best known for small devotional panels, though he was also a master of large format altarpieces. His unique style combined influences from the Italian Renaissance with northern European Mannerism. In this moving portrait, Morales depicts Saint Jerome, the founder of Western monasticism, living as a hermit in the desert where he prayed to purify his soul. His hands rest on a skull, a symbol of the transience of life. The emaciated saint embodies the essential Christian values required for salvation: physical abstinence and spiritual contrition.