Saint Jerome in His Study is one of the three “master prints” by Albrecht Dürer, widely held to represent the pinnacle of his skill as an engraver, if not European printmaking in general. It characterizes Saint Jerome by way of the objects and creatures in his study. These include books, a cardinal’s hat, a skull and crucifix contrasting death with resurrection, the lion and dog that are part of his story in de Voragine’s Golden Legend, and a large gourd referencing his debate with Saint Augustine over the translation of the Hebrew word kikayon (Jerome translated it as “vine,” rather than “gourd”). As in the other master prints, a looming hourglass serves to remind us of life’s transience.
What common thread, if any, unites Dürer’s master prints is a matter of no small controversy among scholars. One theory has it that each represents one of the three modes of virtuous living; Knight Death and the Devil being the active, Saint Jerome in His Study the contemplative, and Melencholia I the intellectual.