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Saint Jerome Reading in an Italian Landscape

Artist: Rembrandt, Harmensz. van Rijn
(Leiden 1606 – 1669 Amsterdam)

Date: ca. 1653
Medium: etching, drypoint, engraving on Japanese paper
Dimensions: 259 x 210 mm
Classification: print
Inventory Number: 31424
Department: Prints and Drawings

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+Description

Saint Jerome Reading in an Italian Landscape

Rembrandt soon recognised the new artistic possibilities inherent in the technique of etching, namely, that he could work with lines of various thickness and force on the prepared copper plate, and that with the concentration or thinning of lines, with the repetition of biting or with the subsequent reworking of the plate with the drypoint needle or engraving knife, the potential was gained for moulding rich nuances. This technique became one of his primary means for artistic experimentation throughout his career. Rembrandt's etching depicting Saint Jerome, is a clear example of his research into the new possibilities of expression. In this later period, the painter placed a special emphasis on the enhancement of painterliness of his etchings, applying mixed techniques with increasing frequency and measure. Alongside the lines he corroded with the aid of acid, he also drew directly on the copper plate with a sharp needle (drypoint procedure), by which fine metal shavings appeared on the two sides of the lines. In the course of printing, the shavings produced velvety, thick lines and fields. The result of this operation is easily observable in the Jerome composition, in the bushes in the centre and the mane of the lion. Beyond this, the artist carved new lines in the plate with his engraving knife, rendering the shadowed parts even darker and more pronounced. He composed the work with an extremely powerful contrast of light and shadow: while the figure of Saint Jerome is bathed in total light, the cliff behind him is enveloped in deep shadow. The interplay of light and shadow formed in long parallel lines on the body of the lion and the great tree trunk provide a transition between the contrast of the sunlit area on the hillside and the shadowy vegetation on its crest. Earlier, this etching was thought to be unfinished, as the figure of the saint is drawn with merely a few broken lines, and it appears practically incorporeal in the strong light. This presumption, however, proved to be mistaken, as after the first state series of the copper plate, Rembrandt effectuated only a few corrections for the sequence of the second state, which would attest to the fact that he designed his artwork intentionally this way, to appear unfinished.

Rembrandt must have had a particular attachment to the figure of Saint Jerome, as in his etchings alone, he rendered him seven times. The earliest sheet, from 1629, portrays the saint in his traditional, kneeling pose of repentance. Later, he is increasingly occupied by the scholarly nature of his personage. This etching of Jerome - the latest, and perhaps the most attractive of them all - depicts the elderly man, of completely earthly mood, sitting in the sun, immersed in his reading, who, lacking the other attributes of his true identity (crucifix, skull, cardinal's hat), is indicated only by the lion.

Text: © TERÉZ GERSZI