Perugino and Stubbs as Lions

This painting of St. Jerome by Perugino is fairly conventional: a saint in prayer with his animal-attribute next to him looking out of the picture. Some might describe the lion's gaze out as a technical gimmick to catch viewers' attention and draw them into the picture. Yes, it does do that but it is far from a meaningless trick.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Perugino, St. Jerome in Penitence (1502-23) Galleria Nazionale, Umbria

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The lion is the artist, a symbol of his unity with nature and our baser instincts. The lion, though, turns to look in the mirror (the picture plane) and sees himself transformed into  St. Jerome, the patient  and suffering scholar-saint, a symbol of how the artist can perfect his own soul. The duality between intellect and animal nature, between conception and craft, is further suggested by the vertical of the Cross which bisects the picture to the left of the lion's face.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Left: Detail of lion from Perugino's St. Agostino Polyptych:  St Jerome and St Mary Magdalene (1502-23)

Right: Perugino, Self-Portrait (1497-1500)

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Lions generally rest with both legs forward but Perugino's has only one. Furry like a brush, it is extended like the arm of a painter and slightly bent too to indicate action. In addition, the paw/brush touches the cardinal's hat which is both highly colorful and oval like a palette.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Detail of Perugino's St. Jerome in Penitence

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To confirm the similarity, an earlier painting of St. Jerome resembles an earlier self-portrait too. Nor is Perugino by any means alone in presenting himself as a painted animal. England's most famous animal painter, a man of the Enlightenment lauded for his interest in science no less, does the same.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Left: Detail of lion from Perugino's St Jerome in Penitence  

Right: Detail of self-portrait from Perugino's Christ Giving the Keys to St. Peter (1480-82)

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George Stubb's portrait by Ozias Humfry looks remarkably like Stubbs' drawing of a lion. Note the downward curve of the far eyebrow and the puffiness of the far cheek by the mouth. Thus, just as I showed that Stubbs' Green Monkey is in the pose of an artist, so Stubbs' lion here is "the artist."

See conclusion below

Captions for image(s) above:

Left: Detail of Stubbs' Lion Resting

Right: Detail of Portrait of Stubbs by Ozias Humfry (1777), inverted

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Artists do not identify with animals in order to hide the concept every painter paints himself from the patron; that is not their principal purpose. As animals, we are at one with Nature and all creatures. And just as artists desire to reach the heavens by becoming divine, so too they recognize that behind the individual image of the self lies unity with all animals. If that sounds like a Buddhist thought, it is. Buddhism is an eastern variation of the Inner Tradition in which the practitioner also aims to understand his own self and his union with Nature, as in all forms of esoteric Christianity as well. Besides, it is only through that unity with nature (plant life, too)  that artists will ever be able to identify the creative principle that lies behind the mystery of consciousness.

 

Notes:

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 15 Apr 2011. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.