Saint Jérôme


1562, oil on wood panel
Bishop’s room (tapestry in the Episcopal Palace)

Originally thought be to by Dürer, this work came from the Orange town hall, but nobody knows its history or its creator.  St. Jerome is pictured meditating upon the vanity of life and the passing of time.  A text that is visible reads  ‘Homo Bulla’ or ‘Man is a bubble’, which refers to how fragile our life is, just like a soap bubble.

St. Jerome (347-420) is known for translating the Bible from Hebrew to Latin, the main part of the Vulgate.  As in most other portrayals of this saint, he is elderly and surrounded by specific symbols – the red hat of a cardinal, the hourglass to represent the passing of time and a skull.  These symbols are often found in paintings called ‘Vanitas’ which were popular in the 16th and 17th centuries.  

It is interesting to see that the date that appears probably referring to the date of the work is 1562, – the year the religious wars between Catholics and Protestants broke out. For Orange, this was a terrible year of civil war and massacres between the two religious communities.  But the date of the picture and the date of the historical events in this principality seem to be a mere coincidence.