Leonardo da Vinci’s St. Jerome. The sketch of a masterpiece.

June 13, 2023
Leonardo da Vinci’s St. Jerome. The sketch of a masterpiece.

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Amongst the many treasures that can be admired in the Vatican Museums, there is a masterpiece that is only a sketch. This is Leonardo da Vinci‘s St. Jerome. There are many reasons to visit the Vatican Museums, and Leonardo’s sketch of St. Jerome is certainly one of them. Come to Rome and take one of our tours, we’ll take you to see Leonardo’s sketch…

The History of Leonardo’s sketch of St. Jerome

According to the information available, we are unaware of the destination of the painting and who it was commissioned by. Even if it is still in the sketch state, it is one of the most enigmatic works of Leonardo.

According to tradition a cardinal discovered the painting divided into two parts: the lower part in the shop of a Roman second-hand dealer where it formed the cover of a box, and that with the head of the saint at the shop of his shoemaker who had used it to make the cover of his stool.

Upon a closer look, the painting is cut into five parts. On the death of the cardinal the picture was auctioned and sold a number of times until it was identified and purchased for Pius IX (pontiff from 1846 to 1878) for the Vatican Pinacoteca (1856).

Leonardo sketch of St. Jerome

Leonardo sketch of St. Jerome

The painting

St. Jerome is depicted as a penitent hermit in the desert. He is dressed in rags, in his right hand he holds the stone he used to beat his chest and with his left hand he makes a gesture of humility. The saint’s face looks up perhaps towards an unpainted crucifix. In the background we see a sketched landscape that confirms the painter’s interest in the study of nature. On the right, under a rocky arch, there seems to be a sketch of the façade of Santa Maria Novella, an important church in Florence. At the saint’s feet is the trusty lion, a recurring feature in Jerome’s images.

This sketch is known and admired for many reasons but mainly for the extraordinary anatomical rendering Leonardo uses for the saint’s body. The rendering of the muscles, the exposed tendons, the hollow, bony head are considered a masterpiece. We have before us a powerful image of devotion and naturalism.


Take one of our tours and come with us to the Vatican Museums. We’ll take you to see what is only a sketch but still an astonishing masterpiece; Leonardo da Vinci’s St. Jerome.