Read Friedmann, Herbert A Bestiary For Saint Jerome: Animal Symbolism In European Religious Art text version


St Jerome is the patron saint of us translators, and a favourite subject of medieval/Renaissance painting. There he sits in his well-appointed study, cardinal's hat on the shelf (Ghirlandaio), attendant lion at his feet (van Eyck). Looks cosy, doesn't it? But art history knows at least three possible Hieronymian leitmotivs: this one ­ Jerome in his study ­ Jerome in penitence, and Jerome in the desert.

Jan van Eyck (attrib.): St Jerome in His Study

Ghirlandaio: St Jerome in His Study

Van Eyck's Jerome is beardless and is actually wearing the Cardinal's hat. This is an early example of "travesty portraiture," a perfectly legitimate piece of self-promotion, offering, when suitably donated, at least partial remission of the benefactor's purgatorial sentence and invoking the virtues and protection of the saint. The sitter is Cardinal Albergati of Bologna (d. 1443), a distinguished churchman and statesmen and founder of perhaps the first Sunday School in Church history. You'll notice that, unlike Ghirlandaio's Jerome, this one is reading, not writing. Now let's take a closer look.


In 1435 Albergati presided, under papal auspices, over the Congress of Arras, convened, officially, to negotiate an end to what we remember as the Hundred Years' War. No peace was made, but this gave Philip of Burgundy the excuse he needed for changing sides ­ dropping the English alliance in return for generous terms from Charles VII. It was the beginning of the end for the English in France: twenty years later, all they had left was Calais. Van Eyck was Philip's court painter, and this portrait was probably commissioned as a reward to Albergati for services rendered. The Cardinal would only be wearing red by papal authority, as had been the case at Arras. The articles on the desk include a pen, a ruler, an hourglass and a letter which, if you could but see it, is addressed to "the most reverend father and lord in Christ, Lord Jerome, cardinal priest of the title of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme" (tr. E. F. Rice). Albergati himself was titular cardinal priest of that church. The study in this portrait could be Albergati's quarters during the Congress, at the Abbey of SaintVaast. The astrolabe used to show a date, the 5th: the Congress opened on 5th August 1435. The other articles on the shelves also have things to tell us. The books betoken learning and theological insight. Then there is the jar with the apple in it. Eve's apple, of course. And on the jar it says: Tyriaca. Theriaca was a cure for the stings of spiders and serpents. Here, then, is a symbol of man's redemption.1 Underneath the astrolabe is a paper-covered glass jar containing water:

A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed. (Song of Solomon, 4:12)

This verse was commonly applied to the Virgin Mary, and the glass carafe, stopped with paper, next to the jar of Theriaca, alludes to the Virgin Birth and Mary's perpetual virginity, a thesis which Jerome vigorously defended. The beads signify devotion to the Virgin. They were used for counting "decades" of the Rosary ­ ten Ave Marias preceded by a Pater noster and followed by a Gloria patri. (There are fifteen decades of the Rosary, one for each "mystery", and these are divided into three groups ­ three circuits of the Rosary ­ called the Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries.)

Now, who exactly was St Jerome?

He was born in Strido, Dalmatia, in about 342 and died at Bethlehem in 420. He was the most learned man of his age, and his translation of the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into Latin remains, in revised form, the authorised version of the Bible in the Roman Catholic Church. His parents gave him a Christian upbringing ­ though he wasn't baptised until some time in the 360s ­ and when he was about 12 sent him to finish his education in Rome, with the pagan grammarian Aelius Donatus. Next he travelled through, or rather, successively resided in, Gaul, Dalmatia and Italy. In Gaul ­ Trier, to be precise ­ he may have worked as a civil servant, which was after all what he had been trained for, though with his command of rhetoric he could also have made a career for himself in the law. While in Italy he became a monk, but something, probably a falling out ­ made him go on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem ­ taking his library with him! First, though, he stayed in Antioch, Syria, where he was befriended by a wealthy and influential priest, Evagrius, and began seriously learning Greek. Illness and an emotionally charged religious environment brought to a head the conflict which had been brewing within him. He dreamed that he was called before the judgement seat of Christ, who asked him what manner of man he was. A Christian, Jerome replied. "You lie!" said the judge. "You are no Christian, you are a Ciceronian!" And he ordered him to be flogged. Jerome begged for mercy and foreswore the reading of pagan literature. The Golden Legend (c. 1260) continues: "Hearing this, the judge dismissed him, and Jerome of a sudden regained his strength and found himself bathed in tears, and his shoulders terribly bruised from the flogging he had received at the tribunal. From then

Brainy Dictionary gives (from Merriam-Webster): An ancient composition esteemed efficacious against the effects of poison; especially, a certain compound of sixty-four drugs, prepared, pulverized, and reduced by means of honey to an electuary; -- called also theriaca Andromachi, and Venice treacle.



on he devoted as much study to godly books as previously he had given to pagan works"2 ­ not quite what he'd promised!

Sano di Pietro (144), Jerome's Dream. (Painted for the Convent of St Jerome in Siena. Now in the Louvre)


Tr. William Granger Ryan.


For five years after this, Jerome lived as a hermit in the desert of Chalcis, renouncing the classics and applying himself to the learning of Hebrew, from a rabbi.

St Jerome tempted by dancing girls. (Notice Old Nick swooping down behind him!)

"Burnt up with the heat of the sun, so scorching that it frightens even the monks who live there, I seemed to myself to be in the midst of the delights and crowds of Rome.... In this exile and prison to which through fear of Hell I had voluntarily condemned myself, with no other company but scorpions and wild beasts, I many times imagined myself watching the dancing of Roman maidens as if I had been in the midst of them. My face was pallid with fasting, yet my will felt the assaults of desire. In my cold body and my parched flesh, which seemed dead before its death, passion was still able to live."

After further studies in Constantinople he returned to Rome as the secretary of Pope Damasus, and it was now that he embarked on his career as a Bible translator. Damasus was an old man, and Jerome was widely tipped to succeed him. He didn't. Soon after the Pope died, Jerome left Rome in a hurry. He returned to the East, accompanied by two pious and wealthy Roman ladies, St Paula and her daughter, St Eustochium, descendants of the Scipios and Gracchi. They settled in Bethlehem, where Paula established a convent of nuns and Jerome a monastery, both financed by Paula, and there Jerome spent the rest of his life, teaching and studying. His Bible translation was completed in about 404. What went wrong? For one thing, he had a sharp tongue and a mordant pen. Those falling short of his expectations, especially in the matter of asceticism, were admonished in no uncertain manner ­ his castigations of luxury and lechery among elderly Roman ladies of Christian high society are quite titillating ­ and he was always in the thick of theological controversy, especially against Origenism, Arianism and other heresies. Once he'd got his knife into you, he'd keep twisting it. Rufinus, for example, at one time his closest friend, became his lifelong adversary. But another, salacious explanation was put about for his hurried departure. The Golden Legend has it that, one night as he lay sleeping, a fellow-monk, smarting under his reproof, stole into his cell with a woman's gown, exchanging it for Jerome's habit. The saint, rising early for matins, dressed in the dark ...

From Les Belles Heures de Jean, Duc de Berry. Right : the switch. Left : Jerome going in to matins. The two monks at the end of the pew have just spotted him.


The Death of St Jerome. (French, 1495-1515)


And where does the lion come into it?

Rogier van der Weyden (1400-1464), Jerome and the Lion (In the background, Jerome, divested of his cardinal's red, does penance by belabouring himself with a stone.)

In Jerome's lifetime there was no such thing as a College of Cardinals: this was created in the 11th century. The cult of Jerome, and his attributes of cardinal's hat and lion, are very much the work of one man, Giovanni d'Andrea (d. 1348), a canonical lawyer at the University of Bologna and a famous man in his own right. He wrote a book called Hieronymianus in which he gathered all the biographical material he could get hold of. And he defined a standard Hieronymian iconography: ".. namely, sitting in a chair, beside him that hat which cardinals wear nowadays and at his feet the tame lion." (Cit. Rice, p. 65.) Later in the 14th century, five new monastic congregations were formed in Spain and Italy, named after Jerome and emulating his virtues.


The story of the lion goes like this. One day in Bethlehem, when Jerome was instructing his brethren, a lion intruded on them. The brethren were terrified, but Jerome, seeing that the lion had a thorn in its paw and was pleading for help, calmed them and persuaded them to help it. (Thus the Golden Legend, but in Giovanni d'Andrea's account the thorn is extracted by Jerome in person.) The lion was so grateful, it refused to leave, whereupon the monks put it to work, guarding the ass that carried home their firewood. One very hot day, the lion fell asleep and a passing caravan of merchants took the opportunity of stealing the ass. The lion awoke to find the ass missing, searched desperately for it but finally returned on its own to the monastery. The monks (though not Jerome, of course), convinced that the lion had devoured the ass, scolded it and commanded it to take over the task of bringing home their firewood. Then one day the lion spotted the ass going by, tethered at the head of the caravan. Attacking the caravan, it scattered the terrified merchants and took the ass and camels with it back to the monastery. The merchants eventually followed, craving forgiveness on bended knee and insisting that the monks accept half their merchandise. This legend was transferred to Jerome from another saint, Gerasimus, who headed a laura (community of hermits) near Jericho, and ­ still referring to Gerasimus ­ it came to Europe in a book called The Spiritual Meadow by John Moschus (d. 619). But the story is far older and even more widespread than this. Aulus Gellius (2nd cent. AD) tells a similar tale of Androclus, a fugitive slave in Roman Africa, and a lion which, in return for the extraction of a splinter from its paw, kept him in raw meat for a number of years. Eventually, though, Androcles' hankering for the bright lights resulted in his capture, and he was thrown to the beasts in the Coliseum. But the beast in question was the lion he had befriended. It refused to harm so much as a hair of his head, and the public insisted on the pair of them being released. Much the same story, with a diversified menagerie, occurs in the apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla.

Here we have three pictures in one. Bottom: the penitent merchants, with the lion snarling at their heels, begging Jerome to forgive and accept. Middle: the ass grazing and the lion asleep at its post. Top: the lion being loaded with firewood. (Limbourg Brothers, Les Belles Heures de Jean, Duc de Berry, 1410-1416). Previous picture : Benozzo Gozzoli (di Lese) 1452, St Jerome Pulling a Thorn from a Lion's Paw. Cappella di San Gerolamo, San Francesco, Montefalco.


Then there is Aesop (mid-6th cent. BC):

A lion, roaming through a forest, trod upon a thorn. Soon afterward he came up to a Shepherd and fawned upon him, wagging his tail as if to say, "I am a suppliant, and seek your aid." The Shepherd boldly examined the beast, discovered the thorn, and placing his paw upon his lap, pulled it out; thus relieved of his pain, the Lion returned into the forest. Some time after, the Shepherd, being imprisoned on a false accusation, was condemned "to be cast to the Lions" as the punishment for his imputed crime. But when the Lion was released from his cage, he recognised the Shepherd as the man who healed him, and instead of attacking him, approached and placed his foot upon his lap. The King, as soon as he heard the tale, ordered the Lion to be set free again in the forest, and the Shepherd to be pardoned and restored to his friends.

This in turn, apparently, was exported by Alexander the Great to India:

An elephant, while walking in the forest, trod on a splinter of acacia wood left there by carpenters while felling forest trees for wood for buildings in Benares. In great pain he came to the carpenters and lay down before them. They removed the splinter and owing to their treatment the wound healed. The elephant, in gratitude, spent the rest of his life working for them, and, before his death, he enlisted his son, white in colour, magnificent and highbred, in their service. One day a half-dry cake of the young one's dung was carried into the river by the flood (we are told that noble animals never dung or stale in water), and, floating down, stuck near the bathing place of the king's elephants in Benares. The royal elephants, scenting the noble animal, refused to enter the water and fled. Having discovered the reason for their behaviour, the king decided to obtain the animal for himself, and going upstream in a raft, he saw the carpenters and the white elephant working for them. The merchants agreed to give him to the king, but the elephant refused to move till the carpenters were adequately compensated. The animal was taken in procession to the city and with his help the king became supreme ruler over India. In course of time the Queen Consort bore a son to the king, but the king died before his birth. The Kosala king thereupon laid siege to Benares, but desisted from attack for seven days, astrologers having predicted that at the end of that time the child would be born. The men of Benares had agreed to surrender unless the baby proved to be a boy. After seven days the queen bore a son named Alínacitta, and the inhabitants of Benares gave battle to the Kosala king. The queen, being told that they were in danger of defeat, dressed the baby and took him to the elephant for protection. The elephant had been kept in ignorance of the king's death, lest he himself should die of a broken heart. But, on hearing the news, he sallied forth into battle and soon brought back the Kosala king as captive.

(Alínacitta Játaka (No. 156). Story of the Bodhisatta, when he was born as Alínacitta, King of Benares.)

Just a thought: Spinario ­ boy pulling a thorn from his foot. Bronze, 5th cent. BC, Museo Conservatori, Rome.


Albrecht Dürer, Jerome in His Study (1514)

This one, I think, is little short of a marvel. Consider the amazing effects of light and shade ­ the shadows of the bars and stanchions and window-pane bull's eyes on the embrasure wall, for example, and the radiance of the old man's pate ­ all achieved with a chisel, gouge or whatever Dürer was using. And look at those cushions ­ simply crying out to be sunk into! The room, if you stop to work it out, is really quite tiny, but the precise mathematical perspective (sloped floor, low ceiling, vanishing point hard on the right margin, and everything positioned either frontally or at an angle of exactly 45 or 90 degrees) makes it both solid and spacious. Jerome is writing, for the moment, and so his lectern has been tucked away in the window to his right. (Could this also account for his oddly/orthogonally positioned sandals or slippers by the wall, behind the dog? "Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground." Exod. 3:5.)Viewed from where he sits, the skull in the window will be ­ shall I say upstaged or downstaged? ­ by the crucifix on his table, the three of them ­ Jerome, crucifix and death's head ­ being exactly in line with each other. The same axial idea ­


overstated, in my opinion ­ occurs in another painting of Jerome in his study, by Joost van Cleve (c. 1525): Skull and crucifix together add up to Golgotha ("skull" in Hebrew) or Calvary ("skull" ­ calvaria ­ in Latin). In his Letter 46, Jerome, writing from Jerusalem to Marcella in Rome, explains:

"Tradition has it that in this city, nay, more, on this very spot, Adam lived and died. The place where our Lord was crucified is called Calvary, because the skull of the primitive man was buried there. So it came to pass that the second Adam, that is the blood of Christ, as it dropped from the cross, washed away the sins of the buried protoplast, the first Adam, and thus the words of the apostle were fulfilled: `Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.'"

Hence the inclusion of a skull at the foot of the Cross in traditional images of the Crucifixion. In Dürer's woodcut, then, we have "Jerome ... as the model of the Christian scholar whose life dedicated to lectio divina makes him profoundly aware of human mortality and the necessity of Christ's passion as the only means to victory over death."3 The death's head is not the only symbol of transience. On the wall beside the cardinal's hat is the ubiquitous hourglass. Then there is the gourd hanging from the ceiling; more about that in a moment. On the shelf behind Jerome is a hearth brush, for sweeping away the ashes of mortality. On the wall between the windows is an aspergillum ­ a pot of holy water, with a brush for scattering it and thereby warding off evil spirits and temptations. Also on the shelf behind Jerome are the Marian symbols we saw in the van Eyck portrait: the flask with the paper stopper and the beads. Now, the gourd. This derives from the story in Jonah, chap. 4, which goes briefly as follows. Jonah, angry with God for sparing the wicked city of Nineveh for its last-minute repentance, sat down outside the city and sulked. God put him into a good mood again by making a gourd grow up to shelter him from the heat of the sun. But next morning He sent a worm to destroy the gourd, simultaneously with a strong east wind and a murderously hot sun. Jonah, for the second time in this quarrel with his maker, demanded that he be allowed to die. "So you miss the gourd?" "I'll say I do!" "Well, well, you miss the gourd, which grew without you lifting a finger, and died after one night. So why shouldn't I spare Nineveh, with its population of 120,000, who don't know their right hand from their left, plus any number of cattle?" When Jerome came to translate this passage, he was rather at a loss to name the plant ­ kikayon in Hebrew. He knew it was the castor bean, but he didn't have a Latin name for that, so he opted for hedera ­ "a kind of ivy", says Friedmann, without specifying which kind.4 Other people favoured the gourd, curcubita (Sw. kurbits!). Jerome came off second best in the argument which followed, and which included some intermittently acrimonious correspondence with St Augustine, but to the scholars and theologians of the 15th and 16th centuries, what mattered was the argument, not its conclusion, and so to their way of thinking he had it on points.

Taken from , which offers a very illuminating study of the same theme as treated in Holbein's The Ambassadors. 4 Friedmann, p. 105. While vainly searching for enlightenment I stumbled on a rather unusual website, wholly devoted to ivy and "Sponsored by Grimsby Pilchards": If your French is up to it, there's a lot of good stuff at: , the tenor of which, after the great Hispano-Jewish commentator Ibn Ezra, seems to be: «Il n'est pas nécessaire de savoir ce que c'est» .Ibn Ezra (1092-1167) was a man of many parts, amply hit by Google.



One more little detail about the gourd: it hangs from the ceiling by a pair of antlers. The making of stags' horns into chandeliers was common practice with hunting people at this time, at any rate in Germany, but I presume these antlers come from the roebuck, which, unlike the red deer and fallow deer, was of a monogamous disposition. Various inferences and associations are possible, for example: "Like as the hart desireth the water brook, so panteth my soul after thee, O God" (Ps. 42:1). There could be another reference here to mortality (in contrast to the deer's putative longevity). And thirdly, the stag was a visual emblem of hearing. One of the most unusual things about this picture is the positioning of Jerome, the main subject, in the background. The foreground is occupied by the usual lion, this time with a dog for company. Why? One theory (Friedmann) is that the picture dates from a critical point in Church history, a time when the breach between Luther and Catholicism had yet to become definitive. Dürer was both a friend of Luther's and a staunch Catholic, and the two animals together might betoken his hope of a reconciliation, with the lion (Luther's courage) and the hound (symbol of fidelity) lying down together. Half a century later, when a lesser artist by the name of Stuber reworked this picture into a portrait of Luther, the dog vanished. Incidentally, commentators usually tell us that in this picture the hound sleeps while the lion keeps watch. The lion doesn't look all that watchful to me, and the "fact" is that he sleeps with his eyes open. We know this from Physiologus. Paraphrasing Gen. 49:9, the unknown author writes: "The lion will seem to fall asleep, and the lion's whelp, who will rouse him?" Oh, I don't know ­ I'm in deep water here. You work it out! Dürer himself coupled this woodcut with two others, namely Melancholy and The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. You'll find Melancholy at and a thought-provoking analysis of it (by way of Günther Grass and Harrison Birtwhistle) at,11710,1031822,00.html . The Four Horsemen can be downloaded, with a critique, from . For a lucid and rather fascinating animated description of woodcut technique, visit (the Metmuseum page has a link to it.) The castor bean plant, downloaded from:


Lucas Cranach the Elder, Saint Jerome in Penitence, 1525

Cranach painted at least eight pictures of St Jerome. This one is in the Tiroler Landesmuseum Ferdinandeum, Innsbruck. In it Jerome the hermit, divested of his cardinal's garb, stone in hand, kneels before the cross in a rather lush wilderness. This theme became especially popular in Italy, where Friedmann has found over 400 versions of it, as against about 80 in the Low Counties, 20 in Germany, 20 in Spain and 6 in France. (There's a catalogue aria for you!) In fact it seems to have originated in Pisa, in the late 13th or early 14th century, closely followed by Florence, where an Order of Hermits of St Jerome was founded in 1406. (Friedmann, p. 73.) Nature now enters art, and Cranach's picture includes a small menagerie. Two birds are perched in the trees at the top of the picture, above the cross: a jay (left) and a "West African red-tailed grey parrot" (Friedmann, p. 118). The jay could signify a number of things. Pliny, echoed by the medieval author Isidore of Seville, informs us that its feathers are luminescent, lighting up the darkness for nocturnal wayfarers. Secondly, the jay is said to have betrayed Christ's presence in the Garden of Gethsemane and, by way of punishment, to have suffered apoplectic strokes every Friday ever since. But thirdly, it is said to be adept at learning. It s, for example, very good at languages. The parrot, of course, was still more of talker, for which it was greatly admired, and symbolised the Immaculate Conception: "God spoke through the angel and the Virgin was impregnated through the ear," as the legend puts it. To the right of these birds, high above Jerome's head, is a V-shaped flight of cranes, symbolising the pursuit of higher things. In the glade still further off we see a herd of deer. They do not seem to have any symbolic import, unlike the small creatures who are keeping the lion company beside the brook in the foreground.


The white bird in the middle distance, behind Jerome, is a black-winged stork.

Storks get their name, ciconie, from the creaking sound they make, like crickets, cicanie. The sound comes from their mouth rather than their voice, because they make it by clashing their bills. Storks are the heralds of spring; they share a sense of community; they are the enemies of snakes; they fly across the sea, making their way in flocks to Asia. Crows go in front of them as their guides, the storks following them as if in an army. Storks possess a strong sense of duty towards their young. They are so keen to keep their nests warm that their feathers fall out as a result of the constant incubation. But their young spend as much time caring for them when they grow old, as they spend caring for their young. Storks make a sound by clashing their bills. They represent those who 'with weeping and gnashing of teeth' (Matthew, 8:12) proclaim from their own mouths the evil they have done.

(Aberdeen Bestiary) One stork is eating a frog, the other perhaps clashing its beak.

The bird on the left must be a hawk or an eagle. A hawk symbolises spiritual renewal. The story goes that when the south wind blows, the hawk spreads its wings to warm its limbs and get rid of its old feathers. Failing a south wind, the hawk faces the sun and flaps its wings to create a draught. This picture of a hawk or eagle spreading its wings comes from the Aberdeen Bestiary. Next to the hawk/eagle are a pair of sirens or harpies. One of them has a man's face, which is highly unusual. The female next to him is gazing at her reflection in the water, and thereby hangs a tale:

Among the bokes whiche I finde Solyns spekth of a wonder kinde, And seith of fowhles ther is on, Which hath a face of blod and bon Lich to a man in resemblance. And if it falle him so per chance, As he which is a fowhl of preie, That he a man finde in his weie, He wol him slen, if that he mai: Bot afterward the same dai, Whan he hath eten al his felle, And that schal be beside a welle, In which whan he wol drinke take, Of his visage and seth the make That he hath slain, anon he thenketh Of his misdede, and it forthenketh So gretly, that for pure sorwe He liveth noght til on the morwe.

Among the books which I find Solyns speaketh (speaks) of a strange kind, And says there is a bird With a face of blood and bone Like a man's. And because he is a bird of prey, If he happens to find a man in his way, He will kill him if he can: But afterwards the same day,, When he has eaten his fill, And is beside a well, Going to drink, Instead of his own face, he sees The face of the man he killed. Then he thinks of his misdeed, And is so sorry for it That he does not live to see the next day.


At the very bottom of the picture is a beaver, symbolising the rejection of earthly desires. The Aberdeen Bestiary takes up the story:

There is an animal called the beaver, which is extremely gentle; its testicles are highly suitable for medicine. Physiologus says of it that, when it knows that a hunter is pursuing it, it bites off its testicles and throws them in the hunter's face and, taking flight, escapes. But if, once again, another hunter is in pursuit, the beaver rears up and displays its sexual organs. When the hunter sees that it lacks testicles, he leaves it alone. Thus every man who heeds God's commandment and wishes to live chastely should cut off all his vices and shameless acts, and cast them from him into the face of the devil. Then the devil, seeing that the man has nothing belonging to him, retires in disorder. That man, however, lives in God and is not taken by the devil, who says: 'I will pursue, I will overtake them...'(Exodus, 15:9)

The beaver's Latin name, castor, comes from castrando, 'castrate'. There are two more animals left to consider before we change pictures. The blackish blob between Jerome and the lion is a tortoise. This occurs quite rarely in European religious art, and its meaning is ambiguous. It can symbolise chastity; being stuck in its shell, it doesn't have the makings of a gadabout, nor is it given to idle speech. Alternatively, though, it can symbolise evil and heresy. This one is certainly very black, and next to it ­ you'll have to take my word for this ­ we have a scorpion, mentioned by Jerome as one of his "companions" in the wilderness; cf. picture and quote in the biography section, above. Shinning up the tree trunk, lastly, is a squirrel. A Teutonic myth , repeated (and embellished?) in Snorre's Edda has it that "The squirrel called Ratatoskr runs up and down the ash-tree, carrying hateful words between the eagle and Nidhogg." Nidhogg is the dragon, gnawing at the roots of Yggdrasil, thereby bringing Ragnarok, the end of the Worlds, ever closer.5 The lion, of course is the most potently symbolic of them all. We know from our childhood storytimes that he is King of the Beasts. And then there is that wonderful Easter hymn by Fulbert of Chartres (d. 1026, creator of Chartres Cathedral):

Chorus novae Ierusalem novam meli dulcidinem promat colens cum sobriis paschale festum gaudiis, quo Christus, invictus leo, dracone surgens obruto, dum voce viva personat, a morte functos excitat. Ye choirs of new Jerusalem, your sweetest notes employ, the Paschal victory to hymn in strains of holy joy. For Judah's Lion bursts his chains, crushing the serpent's head; and cries aloud through death's domains to wake the imprisoned dead.


Snorre's Edda 15. Cf.: Ratatoskr heitir ikorni, er renna skal at aski Yggdrasils; arnar orð hann skal ofan bera ok segia Niðhöggvi niðr. Grímnismál 32,


More to the point, perhaps, the bestiaries tell us:

The lion has three natures: when a lion walking in the mountains sees that it is being hunted, it erases its tracks with its tail; it always sleeps with its eyes open; and its cubs are born dead and are brought to life on the third day when the mother breathes in their faces or the father roars over them.

This is commented on at length in the Aberdeen Bestiary, with a nice finishing touch:

... The compassion of lions is apparent from endless examples. They spare those whom they have brought down. They allow captives whom they encounter to return home. They vent their rage on men rather than women. They do not kill children except in time of great hunger...


Now let's go back indoors again. This picture of St Jerome in His Study, also by Cranach the Elder (1526), is in the John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida. We can start by looking at the window. Seem familiar? Well, isn't it pretty well the same as in Dürer's picture? In fact it's almost the same room, inverted; the writing table comes from the same furniture store. But the verve, repose and stringency of Dürer's composition have all been dissipated, and contrast the awkwardness of the Madonna and Child painting in the corner with, say, the virtuosity of the initialled cartellino poised on the floor of Dürer's study. Cranach and Dürer were friends, but "Jerome" here is Cranach's patron, Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg, Archbishop of Mainz, who presumably made the running. He sits beardless at his lectern, cardinal's hat in the foreground. (Forgive my saying so, Your Reverence, but you look a proper Charlie.) Here we have a comingtogether of history. Albrecht was a high-born, wealthy pluralist. To finance his pluralism and sideline a rival at the Curia, he struck a deal with Pope Leo X ­ a joint venture for the sale of indulgences in the diocese, the proceeds to be split evenly between them, with a bonus of 10,000 gold ducats for the Curia. The marketing was entrusted to a Dominican wheeler-dealer, Johannes Tetzel, and this is what prompted Martin Luther to nail his theses to the church door in Wittenberg ­ not quite so drastic as it sounds, because the church door was the university's regular notice board. Latter-day Protestant ( and Catholic ( accounts of the business make entertaining reading. Tetzel, the Catholics tell us, did not say:

As soon as the gold in the casket rings The rescued soul to heaven springs,6

any more than Luther said:

Who loves not wine and wife and song Remains a fool his whole life long.7

"Sobald das Geld im Kasten klingt, die Seele in den Himmel springt." Wer nicht liebt Wein, Weib und Gesang,/ Der bleibt ein Narr sein Lebenlang! Und Narren sind wir nicht,/ Nein, Narren sind wir nicht.




Just to complete the circle, Cranach (the name is derived from his birthplace, Cronach, in Franconia), in addition to being a painter, was also an apothecary and at one time burgomaster of Wittenberg. At the time of this picture being painted, Albert was still quite a young man. He looks here as if butter wouldn't melt in his mouth, but apparently he was quite a Hooray Henry, a munificent patron of artists and intellectuals, given to rather dubious company, such as that of the humanist/adventurer/pamphleteer Ulrich von Hutten, and conniving at the publication in his archdiocese of numerous books "hostile to the Faith" (Catholic Encyclopaedia). (More respectably, he corresponded with Erasmus.) Later in life he trod the path of orthodoxy, befriending the newly formed Society of Jesus. He has the same chandelier as in Dürer's picture, and the message is reinforced by the presence, near the table, of a roebuck ­ the roe deer, unlike other deer species, being purportedly monogamous. On the table itself we see fruit and two animals. The symbolism of the grapes requires no explanation. The apple betokens original sin and has a masculine connotation. The pear, in Germanic folklore, is a feminine symbol, referring here to Mary and the Incarnation. The rabbit here, presumably, signifies meekness, and the squirrel, gnawing at a grape or nut, is a seeker after truth. Perched on the writing table is the West African red-tailed grey parrot shown in the previous picture. Something we haven't seen before is the two pheasants with their eight chicks. The allusion here, apparently8, is to the Teutonic myth of the origin of the Pleiades:

Christ was passing a baker's shop, when He smelt the new bread, and sent his disciples to ask for a loaf. The baker refused, but the baker's wife and her six daughters were standing apart, and secretly gave it. For this they were set in the sky as the Seven-stars, while the baker became the cuckoo, and so long as he sings in spring, from St. Tiburtius's day to St. John's, the 9 Seven-stars are visible in heaven.

Farmers timed their sowing and reaping by the position of the Pleiades. The constellation was originally conceptualised as a hen and her chicks, which in turn ties in with Matt. 23:37: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem thou that killest the prophets ...... how often would I have gathered thy children together even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings and ye would not." So here we have layers of symbolism: Jerome is translating the Bible (though Albert seems to be reading, not writing, but never mind) for the benefit of those who cannot read Latin or Greek. "Feed my sheep ... Bread of Heaven ..." Which leaves the two partridges to be dealt with. The Aberdeen Bestiary describes the partridge and its habits in terms of tabloid luridness:

The partridge gets its name from the sound it makes. It is a cunning and unclean bird. For one male mounts another and in their reckless lust they forget their sex. The partridge is so deceitful that one will steal another's eggs. But the trick does not work. For when the young hear the cry of their real mother, their natural instinct is to leave the bird that is brooding them and return to the mother who produced them. The Devil imitates their example, trying to rob the eternal Creator of those he has created .... ld/alt/translat/trans54r.html Karl Müchler (1763-1857), see or perhaps even , for such peerless gems as Sei mir gegrüßt, mein Sauerkraut (Heine). 8 Friedmann, pp. 129 f. 9 Grimm's Teutonic Mythology: And while you're at it, visit:


Jerome strongly disapproved of the partridge and its ways, but by Cranach's time this had changed, and the story now went that when the eggs hatched the young instinctively returned to their rightful parents ­ an American-style happy ending, as it were.


Antonello da Messina (d. 1479), Saint Jerome in his Study, c. 1475. I've included this picture mainly because (a) it's in the National Gallery, London, and therefore reasonably accessible, if you live in Europe, and (b) because it illustrates northern ­ Netherlandish ­ influence at work in Italy ­ the hanging towel (on the side of the bookcase to the left) and the glimpse


of landscape through the windows, for example. Perhaps it was inspired by a lost painting of van Eyck's. Once again we have a beardless Jerome who is reading and not writing. Presumably, then, this is a commissioned portrait of a high-ranking cleric. Now let's do the animals. We've already had the partridge. To us the peacock, here making one of its rare appearances in the iconography of St Jerome, signifies vanity. Epiphanius, indeed, lets it be known that the peacock screams in horror at the sight of its feet, detracting as they do from the beauty of the rest of its body. Together the partridge and the peacock could symbolise the luxurious living which Jerome, intent on his book, has quite rejected. But why is the partridge standing in front of an empty bowl? Someone has conjectured that the bowl is a shaving basin and that this in turn explains why Jerome in this picture is clean-shaven! But from the toughness of its flesh the peacock also acquired a connotation of immortality. The lion is relegated to background obscurity, away to the right. Nearer the saint, by the left-hand edge of his podium-study, lies a cat. Nobody quite knows what it's doing there. And what are the potted plants meant to signify? One or two other things ­ the skull and the hourglass, for example ­ are conspicuous by their absence. The most significant thing of all is the positioning of the curious cut-away study in the middle of a church, as if reconciling humanism with the true religion. But wait a minute. That towel bothers me. Whoever heard of anyone hanging a towel on the side of their bookshelf? Where's the soap? What about ewer and basin? No, this towel isn't for washing. Contemporaries would have known instantly what it stood for: the Immaculate Conception. Which puts our picture right in the firing line of Reformation and Counter-Reformation controversy. Hieronymian iconography is changing in the process, as the saint's the life-story is divested of its legendary embellishments (the lion relegated to the shadows) and apocryphal works deleted from the canon of his writings, a transition codified in Erasmus' life of the saint and edition of his works.10 Clearing the decks for action, as it were. Now, by your leave, two short digressions.




Nicolás Francés, 15th cent.: Jerome in His Study.


This picture gives the less common version of the legend, with one of the other monks, not Jerome, extracting the thorn, while Jerome, quite unconcerned, carries on both writing and teaching, or so it seems. But as we saw earlier, in the illustration from Les Belles Heures, simultaneous representation need not imply simultaneous occurrence. My next ­ and, for the time being, last ­ picture was initially chosen for a reason of which Jerome would quite certainly have disapproved.

Vittore Carpaccio (1455 - 152?), The Apparition of Saint Jerome to Saint Augustine

I blush to confess it, but I was really quite an old man before I mastered the difference between Carpaccio and Bresaola. The latter, as I'm sure you're already quite aware, is simply dried, salted beef, whereas Carpaccio is a whole composition, emanating from Harry's Bar in Venice.

In 1950 Venice was bedecked with red and white banners: a major retrospective of the work of Vittore Carpaccio, the Renaissance painter, was being offered at the Doge's Palace. ... That fall one of the habitués of Harry's Bar, the ravishing Countess Amalia Nani Mocenigo ­ one of my father's favourites ­ came in for lunch. She beckoned him to her table and informed him with tears in her eyes that her doctor had just warned her that she must go on a strict diet. For the next several weeks she could not eat any cooked meat. Could my father come to her rescue and dream up a dish that would be not only tolerable under these intolerable conditions, but hopefully delicious? My father smiled, acknowledging the challenge, and offered her a bellini. Never at a loss, he said, "Give me fifteen minutes," and with that vanished into the kitchen. Fifteen minutes later to the minute he reappeared, followed by the maître carrying a beautiful fanlike display of paper-thin sheets of raw filet mignon, onto which was laced a white sauce that consisted of mayonnaise and mustard. "And what is that?" she asked. "A beef carpaccio," my father answered, as if the dish had existed for centuries, whereas in fact he had just made it up. Inspired by Carpaccio's red-and-white paintings, which like most Venetians worthy of the name he had visited and admired at the Doge's palace, my father had on the spot combined a beef tenderloin 11 with a white sauce.


A. Cipriani, Harry's Bar, pp. 85 f. For another







But this picture also strikes a theme more relevant to my purpose, through its pairing together of Jerome and Augustine. Both were Fathers of the Church, there was some animosity between them in their lifetime, and contemporaries and posterity were forever comparing them as scholars and theologians. Luther, for example, detested Jerome but tolerated Augustine. Which also, at long last, brings us to the subject of Jerome and the art of translation. (Incidentally, where is Jerome in this picture? All I can see is a little puppy dog!) To be continued



The Aberdeen Bestiary, c. 1200, The Medieval Bestiary (on-line bibliography) John Gower, Confessio Amantis, or Tales of the Seven Deadly Sins, 1483 (printed by William Caxton) Snorres Edda (övers. Björn Collinder), Oskarshamn 1958. Jerome, Select Letters (tr. F. A. Wright), Loeb Classical Library, Harvard U.P., 1933, 1999 Jerome, Complete Letters, on-line Baxter, R., Bestiaries and Their Users in the Middle Ages, London 1998 Cipriani, A., Harry's Bar, New York 1996 Friedmann, H., A Bestiary for Saint Jerome, Washington D.C. 1980 Valery Larbaud, An Homage to Jerome, Marlboro, Vermont 1984 Meiss, M., and Beatson, E. (eds.), The Belles Heures of Jean, Duke of Berry, N.Y. 1974 Rice, Eugene F., Jr, Saint Jerome in the Renaissance, Baltimore/London 1985, 1988



Friedmann, Herbert A Bestiary For Saint Jerome: Animal Symbolism In European Religious Art

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