Inspired by his letter to a disciple describing his joy in solitary penance, representations of St. Jerome beating his bare breast with a stone became popular in fifteenth-century Tuscany. These images, usually showing St. Jerome kneeling before a crucifix and accompanied by a lion, were especially popular in the last quarter of the century. Images with this theme were generally personal devotional or votive works. They were intended to inspire penitential behavior or even self-mortification on the part of the supplicants. The individual who commissioned this painting has not been identified, but he may have been a member of one of two Florentine confraternities that venerated St. Jerome. Inspired by the Franciscans in particular, these groups of lay individuals performed voluntary flagellation as well as charitable acts. An unusual feature of this painting is the depiction of the family as a group; usually male and female devotees appear on opposite sides of a composition. This piece, along with eleven other works from the Italian Renaissance, were donated to Berea College by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.
-Susan Bonta, Class of 2019