Saint Jerome

Juan de Valmaseda

Dimensions: 73 x 41 x 30 cm
Dated circa 1530 
XVI century Castillian school
Material: polychrome walnut wood 
Exhibited at the Cathedral of Toledo December 2017 / February 2018


The sculpture represents San Jerónimo in the desert when in about 375 he abandoned Antioch and retired to live a hermit’s life. He appears in the space of a cave, surrounded by rocks and slate slabs. He is half naked and carries in his hand a stone with which he hits his body in a sign of penitence.
The sculpture presents an elongated type of structure, with a ”serpentine”(twisting and curving) composition in an unsteady position. The anatomy is clearly stressed both in the bones and muscles which are tough and represented stylistically. The cloth is folded in parallel lines which drop down to the pelvis where it is gathered behind the body. A very expressive head is presented, with lean features in which protruding cheek-bones and eye-brows are clearly stressed. His hair is formed by small wavy locks of straight hair stuck to his head, with a characteristic small lock on his forehead. He has a long beard of wavy hair which branches out and reaches down to his right side. As this is a sculpture intended to form part of an altar-piece, all the rear part of the sculpture is not carved.
Although it is influenced by Alonso Berruguete’s style in its elongated type of structure and “serpentinata” composition, the sculpture reveals a strong expressionism of Gothic source, different from his Italianate mannerism.  The deformations evident in the posture of feet and hands, the schematic representation of bones and sinews and the type of long-haired beard are related to the style of the sculptor Juan de Valmaseda. This is a sculptor who must have been trained in Burgos, where he appears at least in 1514 in connection with the work on the sepulchre of the Gumiel family at San Esteban de Burgos, in collaboration with Nicolás de Vergara el Viejo. Here he associates with Felipe Bigarny and Diego de Siloe whose influence is observed specially in his feminine figures, though he does not capture the Siloesque idealization and always manifests a harsh and expressionist style. Once settled in Palencia, after making works in Oviedo and León, from 1530 onwards, he receives Berruguetesque influences which are noticed by the critics who have been studying this sculptor, specially some scenes from the altar-piece of San Ildefonso in the Chapel of the Archdean of Alcor, Don Alonso Fernandez de Madrid, in the Cathedral of Palencia which were initiated around 1530 and finished with the polychromy around 1549. Regarding the relief of San Jerónimo on the bench of this altar-piece, although the composition is different, the figure of the lion is similar to the sculpture which we have here. We can also relate it to the delicate and parallel system of folds. The kind of beard represented can be related to that of San Pablo in a medallion situated on the first storey of the Alter–piece.
The sculpture is an original and indisputable work by Juan de Valmaseda and it may be declared to be among the best works produced by him.

- Jesús María Parrado del Olmo

Saint Jerome