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Man sitting at a desk surrounded by many objects

A light-skinned, white-haired man in a red robe and hat sits at a table. He holds his head in his right hand and points at a human skull on the table with his left. Next to the skull are a two books, an unlit candle, a quill, and a wide red hat. The room behind the man includes an alcove with a hanging kettle, books, a caged finch, plants, and a crucifix. Inscriptions reading “Respice Finem” and “Homo Bulla” are on the walls. To the man’s left are windows, one of which shows a landscape with a river and tree.

Gallery Text

In 1521, while the German artist Albrecht Dürer was in Antwerp, he painted a picture of Saint Jerome in his study surrounded by objects symbolizing transience and death. The painting was a sensation, prefiguring the genre of memento mori, images that compelled contemplation of mortality. The type became a specialty of local workshops, including that of Joos van Cleve, who is associated with more than a dozen versions of this image.

The piece of paper tacked to the wall reads “Respice Finem” — consider the end. Grasping his head, Jerome points at a skull, whose craggy surface is rendered in detail. Beside him is a snuffed-out candle. Beyond such obvious symbols of death, the image is filled with subtler reminders of the passage of time. The crucifix, set above an Italianate ornamental frieze, casts a curved shadow on its niche, and next to it, a bird — possibly a finch, symbol of Christ’s Passion — is trapped in a cage.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Joos van Cleve, Netherlandish (Cleves, Germany c. 1485/1490 - 1540-1541 Antwerp, Belgium)
Previously attributed to Quentin Metsys, Netherlandish (Antwerp c. 1460 - 1530)
Saint Jerome in His Study
Work Type
Creation Place: Europe, Belgium, Antwerp
Persistent Link


Level 2, Room 2540, European Art, 13th–16th century, The Renaissance
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Physical Descriptions

Oil on panel
99.7 × 83.8 cm (39 1/4 × 33 in.)
frame: 123.8 × 106.7 × 6.4 cm (48 3/4 × 42 × 2 1/2 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • Signed: dated behind ornamental frieze: 1521


Recorded Ownership History
Possibly sold [through Galerie Stern, Düsseldorf, June 11, 1932, lot 136 (as by Joos van Cleve)]. [1] Joseph Warren, by 1942, by descent [2]; to Joseph Warren, Jr., 1946, by descent; to Howland Warren, Nahant, Massachusetts, Dr. Richard Warren, Dedham, Massachusetts, and Mrs. Grayson M. P. Murphy, New York, New York, 1957, gift; to Fogg Art Museum, 1961

[1] The description of lot 136 is very similar to 1961.26, however, there are many versions of Saint Jerome by van Cleve and Quentin Metsys. The painting was not found in the Galerie Stern inventory compiled by the Max Stern Project [see:] or in the 1937 sale of the Stern stock at Lempertz in Cologne.

[2] The work was attributed to Quentin Massys (Metsys) when it arrived at the Fogg on long-term loan in 1942.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Howland Warren, Dr. Richard P. Warren, and Mrs. Grayson M.P. Murphy
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art

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Publication History

  • R. Bruce Livie, Auch Kleine Dinge: Dürer and the Decorative Tradition, exh. cat., Busch-Reisinger Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1971), cat. no. 15, repr.
  • John Oliver Hand, "Joos van Cleve and the Saint Jerome in the Norton Gallery and School of Art", Norton Gallery Studies, Norton Gallery and School of Art (Palm Beach, FL, 1972), fig. 4, repr.
  • Charles Werner Haxthausen, "The Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard: the Germanic Tradition", Apollo (May 1978), vol. 107, no. 195, pp. 403-413, p. 411, repr. p. 412 as pl. VI
  • John Oliver Hand, "Joos van Cleve: The Early and Mature Paintings" (1978), p. 310, no. 84a
  • Robert Garrett, Picking the Best Around Boston, Boston Herald American (Boston, October 8, 1978), repr. on p.B5
  • Charles Werner Haxthausen, The Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University, Abbeville Press (New York, NY, 1980), pp. 14, 46, repr. p. 47
  • Larry Silver, The Paintings of Quinten Massys with Catalogue Raisonné, Phaidon (Oxford, 1984), pp. 116, 222, pl. 107
  • Kristin A. Mortimer and William G. Klingelhofer, Harvard University Art Museums: A Guide to the Collections, Harvard University Art Museums and Abbeville Press (Cambridge and New York, 1986), no. 364, p. 306, repr.
  • Edgar Peters Bowron, European Paintings Before 1900 in the Fogg Art Museum: A Summary Catalogue including Paintings in the Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 1990), p. 44, color plate; pp. 102, 173, repr. b/w cat. no. 109
  • Laura Giles, "'Christ before Pilate': A Major Composition Study by Pontormo", Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies, The Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago, IL, 1991), vol. XVII, no. 1
  • Harvard Science Review, vol. V, no. 1, Winter 1992, cover image
  • William K. Storey, Writing History: a guide for Harvard's sophomore history concentrators, Elena Prentice (Cambridge, MA, 1996), cover page
  • Susan Foister and Ashok Roy, Making & Meaning: Holbein's Ambassadors, National Gallery Publications/Yale University Press (London, England, 1997), p. 55, fig. no. 57
  • Helene E. Roberts, ed., Encyclopedia of Comparative Iconography, Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers (Chicago, 1998), repr. on cover of both volumes
  • Ivan Gaskell, "The Image of Vanitas: Efflorescence and Evanescence", exh. cat., Merrell Holberton (London, England, 1999), p. 187; repr. in color p. 186
  • Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga Lissabon: Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland Bonn, exh. cat., Hirmer (Munich, 1999), p. 164, repr.
  • John Oliver Hand, Joos van Cleve: The Complete Paintings, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT and London, 2004), no. 78, pp. 92-95, 161-162, repr. as fig. 95
  • Till-Holger Borchert, Van Eyck bis Dürer: Altniederländische Meister und die Malerei in Mitteleuropa 1430-1530, exh. cat., Groeningemuseum (Bruges, 2010), p. 134
  • Micha Leeflang, Joos van Cleve: A Sixteenth-Century Antwerp Artist and his Workshop, Brepols (Turnhout, Belgium, 2015), pp. 171-193
  • Stephen Perkinson, The Ivory Mirror: The Art of Mortality in Renaissance Europe, exh. cat., Bowdoin College Museum of Art (Brunswick, Maine, 2017), pp. 37-38, 201, repr. as pl. 17
  • Ewa Lajer-Burcharth, The Painter's Touch: Boucher, Chardin, Fragonard, Princeton University Press (Princeton, 2018), repr. as fig. 1.68 on p. 69
  • Bruno Blondé and Jeroen Puttevils, ed., Antwerp in the Renaissance, Brepols (Turnhout, Belgium, 2020), repr. as fig. 11.8 on p. 275
  • Peter van den Brink, Dürer war hier: Eine Reisew wird Legende, exh. cat., Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum Aachen (Aachen, 2021), cat. no. 152, pl. 285, p. 429
  • Susan Foister and Peter van den Brink, Dürer’s Journeys: Travels of a Renaissance Artist, exh. cat., National Gallery Company Limited (London, 2021), cat. no. 112, pp. 253, 290, repr. p. 255

Exhibition History

  • Auch Kleine Dinge: Dürer and the Decorative Tradition, Busch-Reisinger Museum, 03/04/1971 - 04/03/1971
  • Acquisition in Context: The Adoration Triptych by the Master of 1518, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 09/28/1991 - 01/19/1992
  • Northern European Art from 1450 to 1550, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 08/13/1994 - 02/05/1995
  • Re-View: S422-423 Western Art of the Middle Ages & Renaissance, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 08/16/2008 - 06/18/2011
  • 32Q: 2540 Renaissance, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 12/16/2020; Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 03/21/2022 - 01/01/2050
  • Dürer’s Journeys: Travels of a Renaissance Artist, Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum Aachen, Aachen, 07/18/2021 - 10/24/2021; National Gallery, 11/20/2021 - 02/27/2022

Subjects and Contexts

  • Google Art Project
  • Collection Highlights

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Verification Level

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