Saint Jerome seems to have been a favourite of artists, and Dürer devoted no less than six prints to him; three woodcuts, a drypoint and two of his most important engravings, of which the present work is one. This popularity may have sprung from his appeal as a figure of self-reflection. As the translator of the Vulgate in his study and a hermit in the wilderness he was understood to be an archetype of both scholar and artist.
The first of his truly large engravings, the present work has been dated to about 1496. It is very close in date and composition to the small painting of the same subject in the National Gallery, London, but whilst the Saint is placed in a lush mountain meadow in the painting, in the engraving he kneels between sharp cliffs in a dry, sandy trough. It is a fine example of how Dürer adapted his subject according to the media he employed: the painting makes full use of colour in the description of the vegetation and the sky at dusk, whilst in the engraving the stark black lines perfectly describe the bleakness of the barren landscape.
Rocky cliffs were an established symbol for the hostility of the world at large - Leonardo's Madonna of the Rocks being a prominent example. Yet in Dürer's engraving the symbolism of the rocks is not without its ambiguities: sharp and hostile on the one hand, they also support the little chapel in the background, and can be read as an emblem for the solidity of the church.