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Saint Jerome in Prayer

Barocci Federico

(Urbino c. 1535 - 1612)

The work is signed ‘Fed. Barocivs /’ in the lower left-hand corner; it was certainly executed by 1600, as a print based on it dates to that year. Depicting Saint Jerome before a crucifix in a nocturnal setting, the painting was first documented in connection with the Borghese Collection in 1693. 

Object details

oil on canvas
97 x 67 cm

late 16th-century frame with leaf and apple motifs, 113 x 86 x 6 cm


Collection of Scipione Borghese (?), Inv. c.1633 (?); Inv. 1693, room II, no. 27 / Inv. 1693, room VIII, no. 5; Inv. c.1700, room II, no. 14; Inv. 1790, room IX, no. 13; Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese 1833, p. 16, no. 15. Purchased by Italian state, 1902.


In basso, a sinistra: "FED. BAROCIVS /"

  • 1975 Bologna, Museo Civico
  • 1985 Roma, Palazzo Venezia
  • 1992 Canberra, National Gallery of Australia; Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria 
  • 2000-2001 Helsinki, Amos Anderson Art Museum
  • 2013 Nancy, Musée des Beaux-Arts
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1933 Tito Venturini Papari
  • 1948 Carlo Matteucci
  • 1996-1997 Paola Tollo, Carlo Ceccotti (frame)


The painting contains the artist’s signature in the lower left-hand corner – ‘FED. BAROCIVS /’ – although the inscription does not indicate the year of its execution. Nonetheless, from an engraving made of the painting by Francesco Villamena, we know that the terminus ante quem for our canvas is 1600, the year of the execution of the former. Scholars in fact date the work to the last years of the 16th century (Emiliani 1975, p. 185, and 2008, p. 168; Herrmann Fiore 2000, p. 79; Stefani 2000, p. 388; Delieuvin 2013, p. 350).

In spite of the existence of the signature and the popularity of the work through prints, the canvas does not appear in the oldest Borghese inventories. It was first mentioned in that of 1693, in which it seems to be referred to in two entries. The first reads, ‘a painting of 4 spans on canvas with St Jerome with Christ on the cross [...] by Barocci’; the second describes ‘a painting of Saint Jerome who pounds his chest, with a gilded frame, 4 by 3 [...] by Barocci’. Prior to this inventory, the work may be indicated in an entry of that of Cardinal Scipione Borghese which lists a canvas with the same subject. If this were the case, then the work already formed part of the collection at an early date; yet the absence of the name of the painter in the description prevents us from asserting this with certainty (for the older inventory, see S. Corradini, ‘Un antico inventario della quadreria Borghese’, in Bernini scultore. La nascita del barocco in Casa Borghese, exhibition catalogue (Rome, Galleria Borghese, 1998), eds. A. Coliva, S. Schütze and A. Campitelli, Rome 1998, pp. 449-456; for the possible dating of the inventory, see S. Pierguidi, ‘“In materia totale di pitture si rivolsero al singolar Museo Borghesiano”. La quadreria Borghese tra il palazzo di Ripetta e la villa Pinciana’, Journal of the History of Collections, XXVI, 2014, 2, pp. 161-170).

The work reappears in the inventories of 1700 and 1790 as well as in the 1833 Inventario Fidecommissario, in each case with an attribution to Barocci.

The work was perhaps executed for the purpose of private worship, given that this subject was widely popular during the Renaissance and always in great demand. The figure of the desert hermit Saint Jerome was connected to the concepts of penitence, sacrifice and meditation; in addition, in his capacity as a Church Father and author of the Vulgate Jerome represented the perfect model of the intellectual dedicated to the study of the Holy Scripture. These elements are clearly depicted in Barocci’s work: the saint appears to have just laid down his book, visible below his left arm, in order to devote himself to a moment of profound contemplation of the crucifix as well as to penitence, as is indicated by the rock in his hand with which he is about to beat his chest. Furthermore, the architectural structure in the background is perhaps intended to evoke a monastery; in this case it would constitute another allusion to an  important role played by the saint, namely his efforts in developing monasticism (Delieuvin, 2013).

The scene is set at night, illuminated only by a slight glow of the moon, which is almost completely hidden by a mountain in the dark landscape that opens in the distance, and by a lantern which lights Jerome’s grotto. The saint’s typical attributes are visible on the right: the skull and the hourglass, symbols of death and the futility of earthly existence.

The only hint of colour in the painting is provided by the faded red of Jerome’s mantle, which stands out against the dark tones of the grotto, and of the cardinal’s hat which can be glimpsed on the right side of the scene.

Some critics (Schmarsow 1909, p. 19; Di Pietro 1913, p. 78) have maintained that the model used for the figure of the saint was most likely that of Anchises in the Flight of Aeneas from Troy, now lost, which Barocci painted for the Habsburg Emperor Rudolf II in the 1580s and of which a second autograph version is held by the Galleria (inv. no. 68). Yet other scholars have contested this view: Harald Olsen (1962, p. 196) argued that the chronological distance between the first version of the Aeneas and the Saint Jerome was too great to posit a connection. On the other hand, the thesis was accepted by Andrea Emiliani (1975, p. 185, and 2008, p. 168; see also Della Pergola, 1959, pp. 69-70, n. 100; Delieuvin, 2013), who believed that Barocci repeatedly used the same models which he fine-tuned in drawings. Both the features and inclination of Jerome’s head in fact reappear in the figure of the bishop in the later Lamentation of Christ, which the artist left unfinished at the time of his death (Biblioteca Comunale dell’Archiginnasio, Bologna).

Several preparatory studies connected to the canvas are held at the Department of Prints and Drawings of the Uffizi (on these, see Emiliani 2008, pp. 170-171).

Pier Ludovico Puddu

  • M. Vasi, Itinéraire Instructif de Rome [1786] 1792, p. 364.
  • A. Manazzale, Itinerario di Roma [1794], 1817, I, p. 244.
  • A. Nibby, Roma nell’anno MDCCCXXXVIII. Parte seconda moderna, Roma 1841, p. 597.
  • E.Z. Platner, Beschreibung der Stadt Rom, III, Stuttgart 1842, p. 278.
  • X. Barbier de Montault, Les Musées et Galeries de Rome, Rome 1870, p. 359.
  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 328.
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 194.
  • J. A. Rusconi, La Villa, il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Bergamo 1906, p. 80.
  • A. Schmarsow, Federigo Baroccis Zeichnungen, I, Die Zeichnungen in der Sammlung der Uffizien zu Florenz, Leipzig 1909, p. 19.
  • E. Calzini, Elenco delle opere di Federico Barocci, in Studi e Notizie su Federico Barocci, a cura della Brigata urbinate degli Amici dei Monumenti, Firenze 1913, p. 170.
  • Mostra dei cartoni e disegni di Federigo Baroccio, catalogo della mostra (Firenze, Uffizi, Gabinetto dei disegni e delle stampe, 1912-1913), Bergamo 1913, p. 63.
  • F. Di Pietro, Disegni sconosciuti e disegni finora non identificati di Federigo Barocci negli Uffizi, Firenze 1913, p. 78.
  • R.H. Krommes, Studien zu Federico Barocci, Leipzig 1912, pp. 96, 111.
  • M. Marangoni, Mostra di disegni del Baroccio agli Uffizi, in “L’Arte”, XVI, 1913, p. 67.
  • H. Voss, Die Molerei der Spätrenaissance in Rom und Florenz, Berlin 1920, II, p. 494.
  • A. De Rinaldis, La Galleria Borghese in Roma (“Itinerari dei Musei e Monumenti d’Italia” XLIII), Roma 1935, p. 26.
  • A. De Rinaldis, Catalogo della Galleria Borghese, Roma 1948, p. 26.
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese in Roma (“Itinerari dei Musei e monumenti d’Italia” XLIII), Roma 1951, p. 45.
  • H. Olsen, Federico Barocci. A Critical Study in Italian Cinquecento Painting, Stoccolma 1955, pp. 68, 82, 153, nota 49.
  • L. Ferrara, Galleria Borghese, Novara 1956, p. 48.
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, II, Roma 1959, pp. 69-70, n. 100.
  • H. Olsen, Federico Barocci, Copenaghen 1962, p. 196, n. 50.
  • A. Emiliani, scheda in Mostra di Federico Barocci, catalogo della mostra (Bologna, Museo Civico, 1975), a cura di A. Emiliani, Bologna 1975, pp. 184-185, n. 222.
  • G.R. Walters, Federico Barocci: Anima Naturaliter, New York 1978, p. 142. 
  • F. Sangiorgi, Committenze milanesi a Federico Barocci e alla sua scuola nel carteggio Vincenzi della Biblioteca Universitaria di Urbino, Urbino 1982, p. 37. 
  • Paesaggio con figura, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Palazzo Venezia, 1985), a cura di C. Tempesta, K. Herrmann Fiore, Roma 1985, n. 26.
  • D. Jaffé, scheda in Rubens and the Italian Renaissance, catalogo della mostra (Canberra, Australian National Gallery Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria, 1992), a cura di D. Jaffé, M. Chiarini, Canberra 1992, p. 68, n. 15.
  • A. Coliva (a cura di), La Galleria Borghese, Roma 1994, p. 157.
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, scheda in The Art of the Jubilees in Papal Rome 1500-1750, catalogo della mostra (Helsinki, Amos Anderson Art Museum, 2000-2001), a cura di S. Rossi et alii, Helsinki 2000, p. 79, n. 5.
  • C. Stefani, in P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 388, n. 17:
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, Galleria Borghese Roma scopre un tesoro. Dalla pinacoteca ai depositi un museo che non ha più segreti, San Giuliano Milanese 2006, p. 132.
  • A. Emiliani, Federico Barocci (Urbino, 1535-1612), Ancona 2008, II, pp. 168-171.
  • P. Gillgren, Siting Federico Barocci and the Renaissance aesthetic, Burlington 2011, pp. 213, 258.
  • V. Delieuvin, scheda in L’automne de la Renaissance d’Arcimbolde à Caravage, catalogo della mostra (Nancy, Musée des Beaux-Arts, 2013), a cura di D. Bakhuys, C. Stoullig, F. Collette, Paris 2013, pp. 350-351, n. 126.