1556; Oil on canvas, 119 x 154 cm; Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice
Although he worked mainly in his native Bassano (from where he gets his name), away from the main artistic centres, Jacopo Bassano played an active role in the cultural life of the time. Pupil of Bonifacio Veronese and student of Titian, Pordenone, Lorenzo Lotto and Savoldo, and an admirer of German engravings, he was inspired by Mannerism and by Parmigianino in particular. He developed and refined a style where a polished use of colour turns Mannerist preciosity into an extreme realist representation, achieving in his later works a sensibility which prefigures the 17th century. The striking naturalism of St. Jerome belongs to the beginning of this late period.
The saint is portrayed in meditation in the cave which was his refuge and behind which we can glimpse on the right the rain-swept countryside. The livid autumn twilight highlights with realistic truth every vein and wrinkle of the body consumed by a life of privation and picks out the details of the objects on the ground: the hour-glass, the leather-bound volumes, the skull rolled into the shadow. The rare patches of colour pulsate with a shimmering brightness in the play of light and shadow on the dark brown of the rock, conveying the everyday truth of the melancholy of the place and the time of day. The expressive freedom of colour and effects of light inspired El Greco during his formative years in Venice although the artistic visions of the two painters were very different. In fact, for Bassano effects of colour and light are essential to achieve a material reality, while for El Greco they are the fundamental elements of his stunning abstract precepts.