This small, powerful study shows St Jerome contemplating the bible with a cross and skull. This sheet belongs to a small group of drawings Mortimer made of saints, including a grand study of the penitent Magdalen at Princeton.
The drawing is similar in style and conception to the study of Sterne’s Captive in the Oppé Collection at the Tate, a drawing which was engraved posthumously in 1781. Mortimer was aware of the mutability of certain figure types. A naked old man posed in a dramatic landscape was exhibited in 1772 as Nebuchadnezzar recovering his reason, but a similarly posed figure was published in 1782 as Don Quixote in the Sable Mountains. Here, the presence of the cross, book and skull and lines from the Vulgate inscribed in the top right hand corner confirm the identity of the figure. In common with Mortimer’s restless interest in capturing the human figure from unusual angles, he has shown St Jerome from behind, his left leg raised and resting on the ledge of his hermitage. The muscular action of the figure, gives remarkable strength to the design.