The Penitence of Saint Jerome, Joachim Patinir (Netherlandish, Dinant or Bouvignes, active by 1515–died 1524 Antwerp), Oil on wood

The Penitence of Saint Jerome

Joachim Patinir (Netherlandish, Dinant or Bouvignes, active by 1515–died 1524 Antwerp)
ca. 1512–15
Oil on wood
Shaped top: central panel, overall, with engaged frame, 46 1/4 x 32 in. (117.5 x 81.3 cm); each wing, overall, with engaged frame, 47 1/2 x 14 in. (120.7 x 35.6 cm)
Credit Line:
Fletcher Fund, 1936
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 642
Acknowledging Patinir’s leading role in a new genre, Albrecht Dürer referred to the artist in 1521 as the "good landscape painter." This intact altarpiece was probably a German commission, since its exterior wings show Sebald, patron saint of Nuremberg, and Saint Anne with the Virgin and Child. Following Netherlandish tradition, large-scale sacred figures dominate the foreground of the interior: Saint John baptizing Christ, Saint Jerome, and Saint Anthony the Hermit with the monsters that assailed him. The picture’s true subject, however, is the magnificent panoramic landscape, which the viewer is encouraged to travel through visually in the manner of a pilgrimage.
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This triptych—intact and possessing its original frame—is a key work by the Antwerp painter, Joachim Patinir. It shows on its individual sections, when open, episodes from the lives of three hermit saints whose spirituality was tested and strengthened by long periods spent alone in the wilderness. On the central panel Saint Jerome is shown chastising himself before a crucifix, while in the extensive landscape to the right of the rocky outcropping he is shown pardoning two merchants who had stolen an ass from the monastery (the ass was supposed to be guarded by Jerome’s pet lion, who redeemed himself by finding the ass and bringing the merchants to justice) and on the hill behind him is seen the monastery he founded outside Bethlehem. These scenes are taken from the Golden Legend. On the left wing are shown two scenes from the life of John the Baptist, as recounted in the Gospels: in the background he preaches to the Jews while in the foreground he baptizes Christ; God appears in clouds, sending forth the dove of the Holy Spirit in a radiance of gold. The right wing shows Saint Anthony reading the Holy Scriptures and reciting his rosary while enduring the taunting of satanic monsters, again derived from the Golden Legend. When closed, the outside wings display grisaille figures of Saint Anne with the Virgin and Child and Saint Sebald. As Saint Anne was much venerated in Germany and Saint Sebald was the patron saint of Nuremberg, it seems possible that the triptych was commissioned by south German patrons, perhaps for a monastery. However, by 1674 it was in the collection of Emperor Leopold I in Vienna, and subsequently in the Benedictine monastery of Kremsmünster (near Linz, Austria), where it remained until 1935.

At the beginning of the sixteenth century landscape painting began to emerge as an independent genre, and Patinir was at the forefront of this development. On his trip to the Netherlands in 1520–21, Albrecht Dürer referred to him as the "good landscape painter"—an early acknowledgment of his leading role in this new specialization. In the Triptych with the Penitence of Saint Jerome Patinir reverses the conventional relationship of figure to landscape, providing a continuous landscape that extends across the three panels, with the sky varied in each scene to set a distinct mood. As noted by Gibson (1989), the broad vista is seen from above while the individually studied components, such as the craggy rocks, buildings, and large trees, are viewed at eye level. Atmospheric perspective and a high horizon unite these disparate views to create an ideal landscape.

Until recently, the triptych was considered a mature work and dated to around 1518 (see, for example, Koch 1968)—close in time to the Landscape with the Baptism of Christ in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, with which it shares the motif of Saint John baptizing Christ. A thorough technical examination of the triptych has recently been carried out (Ainsworth and Thomas 2007) in preparation for the monographic exhibition at the Prado in 2007. When the triptych was lent to the exhibition, its attribution and date were much discussed and a case can be made that this is Patinir’s earliest surviving large-scale triptych, dating around 1512–15. A dendrochronological exam establishes a date no earlier than 1494 (Klein 2007).

[Maryan W. Ainsworth 2011]
Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor, Vienna (by 1674–sometime in 1680s; probably sold or donated to Kremsmünster); Monastery of Kremsmünster, near Linz (sometime in 1680s–1935); [Knoedler, New York, 1935–36; sold to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 22, 1998–February 21, 1999, no. 88.

Madrid. Museo Nacional del Prado. "Joachim Patinir and the Invention of Landscape," July 3–October 7, 2007, no. 19.

Max J. Friedländer. Letter (presumably to M. Knoedler & Co.). November 14, 1935, considers it a key work by Patinir in an excellent state of preservation.

Harry B. Wehle. "A Triptych by Patinir." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 31 (April 1936), pp. 80–84, ill., identifies the grisaille figure on the right exterior wing as Saint Sebald, the patron saint of Nuremberg, but scarcely known outside Germany; notes that the subject of the left exterior wing is the "Mutter Anna Selbdritt," a popular German motif in which Saint Anne holds a miniature Virgin and Child in her arms; concludes that the altarpiece was produced for Germany and speculates that Patinir obtained the commission through Albrecht Dürer's intercession.

Max J. Friedländer. Die altniederländische Malerei. Vol. 14, Pieter Bruegel und Nachträge zu den früheren Bänden. Leiden, 1937, pp. 118–19, nachtr. pl. 29, states that both landscape and figures are from the hand of Patinir.

Harry B. Wehle and Margaretta Salinger. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Early Flemish, Dutch and German Paintings. New York, 1947, pp. 115–17, ill., note that the Baptism scene recalls Gerard David's Baptism of about 1508 in Bruges [Groeninge Museum] and that the Temptation of Saint Anthony with its hybrid plant and animal monsters "would be unthinkable without the example of Hieronymus Bosch".

Art Treasures of the Metropolitan: A Selection from the European and Asiatic Collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1952, p. 227, no. 100, colorpl. 100.

Erwin Panofsky. Early Netherlandish Painting: Its Origins and Character. Cambridge, Mass., 1953, vol. 1, p. 448 n. 6 (to p. 218), mentions this altarpiece among a number of later Netherlandish examples in which the wings are slightly higher than the central panel.

Maurice W. Brockwell. "A Little Known Landscape Painter: Lucas Gassel's 'Baptism of Christ'." Connoisseur 138 (September 1956), p. 18.

Erik Larsen. Les primitifs flamands au Musée Metropolitain de New York. Utrecht, 1960, pp. 84–85, 127, figs. 27A, B and C.

Robert A. Koch. Joachim Patinir. Princeton, 1968, pp. 11–12, 16–18, 35–36, 42 n. 72, pp. 45, 51, 77, no. 14, figs. 35, 37–38 and frontispiece, calls it Patinir's finest altarpiece and places it in his middle period, between 1515–19; considers it likely to have been commissioned by a South German merchant due to the presence of Saint Sebald on an outer wing; comments on the "half-hidden, enigmatic 'portrait' of a young man" in the Temption of Saint Anthony; identifies the episodes in the legend of Saint Jerome and comments on the surprising degree to which disguised natural symbols occur here, although they had ceased to preoccupy Netherlandish artists after the 1470s; discusses the artist's pictorial method.

Walter S. Gibson. "Herri met de Bles: 'Landscape with St. John the Baptist Preaching'." Bulletin of The Cleveland Museum of Art 55 (March 1968), p. 79, ill.

Gert von der Osten and Horst Vey. Painting and Sculpture in Germany and the Netherlands 1500 to 1600. Baltimore, 1969, p. 154, pl. 145.

Charles D. Cuttler and Burton L. Dunbar. "Robert A. Koch, Joachim Patinir, 1968." Art Quarterly 32, no. 4 (1969), p. 432, reject the attribution to Patinir of this altarpiece and the Saint Jerome in London [National Gallery] calling them "stiff, hard, or fussy, and . . . [lacking] the masterfully applied glazes of paint typical of Patinir's authentic works".

Max J. Friedländer et al. Early Netherlandish Painting. Vol. 9, part 2, Joos van Cleve, Jan Provost, Joachim Patenier. New York, 1973, pp. 125–26, Supp. 266, pls. 250–51.

A. de Bosque. Quentin Metsys. Brussels, 1975, pp. 189, fig. 229 (exterior wings).

Howard Hibbard. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1980, pp. 200–201, fig. 365.

Maurice Pons and André Barret. Patinir ou l'harmonie du monde. Paris, 1980, pp. 70, 90–91, 96, 104, 123, figs. 80, 83, 85, 87, 89 (overall and details).

Walter S. Gibson. "In Detail: Pieter Bruegel's 'The Harvesters'." Portfolio (May/June 1981), pp. 42–43, ill.

Luc Serck. "'Isaac bénissant Jacob': Un paysage d'Henri Bles au Musée d'Innsbruck." Kunsthistorisches Jahrbuch Graz 18 (1982), pp. 186–87, 192 n. 7, fig. 15 (central panel).

Reindert L. Falkenburg. "Joachim Patinir: Het landschap als beeld van de levenspelgrimage." PhD diss., Universiteit van Amsterdam, 1985, pp. 10, 73–74, 84–85, fig. 8.

Introduction by James Snyder in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: The Renaissance in the North. New York, 1987, pp. 12, 54–57, ill. (color, overall and details).

Jacques Hendrick. La peinture au pays de Liège: XVIe, XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles. Liège, 1987, p. 32, ill. (color).

Reindert L. Falkenburg. Joachim Patinir: Landscape as an Image of the Pilgrimage of Life. Amsterdam, 1988, pp. 6–7, 52–57, fig. 8, sees Patinir's landscapes with large saints in the foreground, including the present work, as deriving from the compositional type of the "Andachtsbild" combined with the tradition of supplementary vignettes (present in certain works of Rogier van der Weyden and Hans Memling); believes Patinir's pictures of this type were intended as visual aids for meditation, providing a visual rather than a literal pilgrimage, and contends that this interpretation is consistent with what is known of contemporary devotional practice; places our triptych in a group of works from Patinir's earliest development of this compositional type.

Walter S. Gibson. "Mirror of the Earth": The World Landscape in Sixteenth-century Flemish Painting. Princeton, 1989, pp. 4, 7–8, 10, fig. 1.8, in discussing this picture, comments on the artist's "indifference to spatial unity" (including the unnaturally high horizon, the land and bodies of water seen from above, and the vertical elements—architecture, trees, and mountains—seen straight on); also comments on Patinir's "bold defiance" of the laws of atmospheric perspective, which permits us to see the near and the far with almost equal clarity; discusses the artist's pictorial method in general and his role in the history of Netherlandish landscape painting.

Robert A. Koch, Selected by Guy C. Bauman, and Walter A. Liedtke, Introduction by Walter A. Liedtke in Flemish Paintings in America: A Survey of Early Netherlandish and Flemish Paintings in the Public Collections of North America. Antwerp, 1992, pp. 108–111, ill. in color (overall and detail), as representing a mature phase in Patinir's stylistic development, about 1518.

Larry Silver. "Kith and Kin: A Rediscovered Sacred Image by Massys." Shop Talk: Studies in Honor of Seymour Slive. Ed. Cynthia P. Schneider et al. Cambridge, Mass., 1995, p. 234.

Véronique Sintobin in From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Ed. Maryan W. Ainsworth and Keith Christiansen. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1998, pp. vii, 70, 74, 257, 270, 323, 335–42, 379, 386, no. 88, ill. (color, overall and details) and frontispiece (color), dates it about 1518.

Arianne Faber Kolb. "Varieties of Repetition: 'Trend' versus 'Brand' in Landscape Paintings by Joachim Patinir and His Workshop." Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 28 (Winter 1998), pp. 170, 172, states that Patinir's Baptism of Christ (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna) was "imitated" in the left wing our triptych, which she places in his middle period, or 1515–19.

Peter Humfrey and Mauro Lucco. Dosso Dossi: Court Painter in Renaissance Ferrara. Ed. Andrea Bayer. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1998, p. 196, ill.

John Oliver Hand. "New York. From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Burlington Magazine 140 (December 1998), p. 856, ill.

Luc Serck in Autour de Henri Blés. Ed. Jacques Toussaint. Exh. cat., Musée des Arts Anciens du Namurois. [Namur], 2000, pp. 154–56, 234, 246, ill. (overall and detail), catalogues and reproduces a triptych by a follower of Patinir with Saints Jerome, John the Baptist and Anthony (private collection) which appears to have elements in common with our triptych; also reproduces two works by Herri met de Bles which he believes derive from the central panel of our triptych.

Boudewijn Bakker Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam. Landschap en Wereldbeeld: Van Van Eyck tot Rembrandt. Bossum, The Netherlands, 2004, pp. 123, 198, fig. 28, compares the bird's eye view to Jan de Hervy's 1501 map of the Zwin river in Bruges (fig. 45).

Larry Silver. Hieronymus Bosch. New York, 2006, p. 366, colorpl. 287.

Maryan W. Ainsworth and Karen E. Thomas et al. in Patinir: Essays and Critical Catalogue. Ed. Alejandro Vergara. Exh. cat., Museo Nacional del Prado. Madrid, 2007, p. 29 n. 25, pp. 30–31, 36–37, 59, 78, 84, 223, 277, 282–91, 294, 376no. 19, ill. in color (overall and details), and infrared reflectograms of details, based on Klein's [Ref. 2007] dendrochronological analysis, give a most plausible date of execution of 1494; tentatively conclude the larger figures in our panel and in the Prado's Landscape with Saint Jerome were painted by Patinir himself, judging from the extremely rough reserve left for them in the landscape.

Peter Klein. Letter. June 11, 2007, gives an earliest creation date for this painting of 1488 upwards, and a most plausible creation date of 1494 upwards.

Cécile Scailliérez and Alejandro Vergara in Patinir: Essays and Critical Catalogue. Ed. Alejandro Vergara. Exh. cat., Museo Nacional del Prado. Madrid, 2007, p. 332, compare the large figures in our triptych with those in Patinir's "Landscape with Saint Jerome" (Louvre, Paris) and "Charon Crossing the River Styx," (Prado, Madrid), finding them "close in style to the work of Gerard David, if slightly less skilfully rendered"; observe that these figures "may be the work of Patinir at an advanced stage in his development as an artist, when his figure painting had reached a more than acceptable level, especially in areas such as the folds of the draperies".

Leopoldine Prosperetti. "Crafting Repose: Aesthetic and Cultural Aspects of the Hermitage Landscape by Jan Brueghel the Elder." Image and Imagination of the Religious Self in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe. Ed. Reindert Falkenburg et al. Turnhout, Belgium, 2007, pp. 363, 366, fig. 120, erroneously as in the Cloisters.

Lynn F. Jacobs. Opening Doors: The Early Netherlandish Triptych Reinterpreted. University Park, Pa., 2012, pp. ix, xiv, 221, 238–42, 331 n. 11, colorpl. 35, fig. 117 (exterior).

Michel Weemans. Herri met de Bles: les ruses du paysage au temps de Bruegel et d'Érasme. Paris, 2013, pp. 200–201, fig. 137 (color).

Kathryn Calley Galitz. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Masterpiece Paintings. New York, 2016, pp. 274, 278, no. 175, ill. pp. 178–79, 274 (color, overall and detail).

According to an old note in the departmental archives, this picture is illustrated in the catalogue of the Abbey of Kremsmünster, and described in the catalogue, p. 54, as follows: "On the principal wall there are very important works of art. In the middle of that wall is hanging the very precious altarpiece by Patenier which is the most important item of our collection. It shows . . . [follows description of the painting] . . . In this picture Patenier, the artist whom Dürer admired so much, made a most marvelous landscape." It has not been possible to locate a copy of the catalogue, or to find its exact title or date of publication.

An entry reported to be in the archives of Kremsmünster states that the triptych was given to the monastery in 1674 by Emperor Leopold I (Wehle and Salinger 1947).