The path to virtue : Rembrandt’s Jerome as repentant sinner and scholar
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Over the course of his career, the artist Rembrandt van Rijn produced eight prints depicting St. Jerome, a fourth-century ascetic and theologian. In this thesis, I examine why Rembrandt chose Jerome to represent so often in print and in what ways the saint’s imagery and iconography was adapted to reflect seventeenth-century Dutch culture and values. Rembrandt’s prints of Jerome can be divided into two even groups, with four etchings of the saint as repentant sinner and four of the saint as scholar. In the prints of the repentant Jerome, I argue that Rembrandt focuses on the act of prayer and quiet contemplation to align with Protestant ideas of penitence. In this way, Rembrandt reflects a Protestant version of asceticism that could be used to model prayer and penitence in the daily life of Dutch citizens worried for the fate of their souls. One of these four prints of Jerome in penitence was produced in collaboration with a printmaker, Jan van Vliet. With this print, I analyze the practical reasons surrounding Rembrandt’s production and posit that his collaboration with Van Vliet broadly and the prints of Jerome specifically were meant to advertise his skill, attract patrons, and attain success on the market. I lastly discuss Rembrandt’s four prints of Jerome as scholar and view them through the lens of Christian humanism and intellectual culture prevalent in the Dutch Republic during this time. Jerome’s status as patron saint of scholars and advocate for the study of languages and primacy of the original Word resonated with Protestant thinkers of the early modern era. The characterization of Jerome’s scholarship again aligned with a newly developing form of asceticism that focused on virtue and engagement with God. This thesis argues that all eight prints of Jerome in his dual guises as sinner and scholar reveal Rembrandt’s construction of the saint as an ideal of religious devotion. In these prints, Jerome’s penitence and scholarship both provide a model for the path to virtue as believers sought a way to be reassured of their salvation and lead a life of pious humility.