Paul Bril    Flemish    1554-1626
SN 707    Oil on Canvas        About 1595-1600

by Robert Anderson. 2000

    Bril was a Flemish landscape painter who studied in Antwerp but followed his successful brother, Mattheus, to Rome in 1574. His work bridges the gap between the fantastic 16th century Flemish Manneristic style and the more plausible, idealized Italian landscapes of the 17th century.
    His first works were monumental frescoes and one of his most important commissions was his fresco cycle depicting hermit saints praying in lush, wooded landscapes.

Later in the 1590's Bril began painting small landscapes on panel and copper, again depicting tempestuous seascapes, hermits in the wilderness, travelling pilgrims and peasants among ancient ruins.
    Bril's style changed in later life from his early Flemish tradition inaugurated by Pietr Bruegel the Elder which depicted a sense of dramatic motion and sharply divided light and dark scenes. It became calmer and more classical probably influenced by Annibale Carracci.
    He was renowned throughout Italy particularly for his small easel paintings and his art influenced the development of future idealized landscape painting in Italy.

    The subject is the retreat into the wilderness of St. Jerome. After having been reproached by God in a dream for caring more for the classics that for Christianity, Jerome resolved to devote his scholarship to the Holy Scriptures. With this resolve he lived a hermit's life in the wastes of the desert praying, writing and studying Hebrew, which later enabled him to translate the Bible from Hebrew to Latin.
    There is also a story of his having befriended a lion - taking a thorn from its paw. The lion was said to have then become Jerome's friend and thereafter, when its image was depicted in art, became a symbol of Jerome.

    This painting,done between 1595 and 1600, is an early but by no means youthful masterpiece. There are influences in this painting of northern Italian landscape painters who had been in turn influenced by the Flemish Mannerist tradition. The painting is unusual for this artist whose paintings of this period are generally tempestuous. This St. Jerome in the Wilderness has a quiet drama, however, that is no less intense.

    The nocturnal setting of the scene is an innovation to a subject which while rare in the North was well established in Italian art of the period. The moonlit landscape evokes the hermit's isolation from the world with a haunting effect. Unlike his other landscapes, the figure of St. Jerome in this painting is not an afterthought but is a key element of the painting. The saint's red mantle rivits the eye upon him and expresses his religious ardor as he prays before the crucifix.
    Dimly visible in the middle distance is the lion who became Jerome's companion.

    Saint Jerome was one of the few Fathers of the Church to whom the title of Saint appears to have been given in recognition of services rendered to the Church rather than for eminent sanctity. He is the great Christian scholar of his age, rather than the profound theologian or the wise guide of souls. In controversy he was too fond of mingling personal abuse with legitimate argument.