Born as Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus, St Jerome received a classical education in Rome in the 360‘s AD. This type of education was known to be sexually liberal and Jerome may have engaged in pederasty (the practice of men engaging in sex with adolescent or pubescent boys). Whatever the case, Jerome felt a deep shame and vowed to become a Christian monastic. He travelled widely, studying and teaching the word of god. He was the first to translate the bible into Latin.
One day during his travels in the wilderness he had a vision of Venus and cupids, who tempted him to return to his old life and wild ways. In this painting, St Jerome turns away from them towards the crucifix, showing his faith. On the right we find books that allude to his studies and a vanitas skull, pointing out to us viewers that life is transient and earthly goods are ephemeral. At Jerome’s feet we find the lion that has come to symbolize the saint. Jerome was said to have pulled a thorn from a lion’s paw while travelling in the wilderness, but Jerome’s story was probably mixed up with the story of Androcles long ago.
P.S. This painting was just sold at auction for $942,000.