This celebrated composition was invented by Albrecht Drer in 1521, during his visit to the Low Countries, for the Portuguese patron Rodrigo d'Almada. Drer's version is now in the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon (inv. no. 828 Pint), while a preparatory drawing for the skull is in Vienna, Grafische Sammlung Albertina. The composition was subsequently adopted in a drawing by Lucas van Leyden (Oxford, Ashmolean Museum) and in a number of painted versions by Joos van Cleve, who may have admired Drer's original while it was in Antwerp (see M. J. Friedländer, Early Netherlandish Painting, IXa: Joos van Cleve, Jan Provost, Joachim Patinir, ed. H. Pauwels, Leiden, 1972, pp. 31 and 58, pl. 57). A version sold by Christie's, London, 3 December 1997, lot 46 (£210,500), is probably the prototype for the present work, which introduces a number of significant and original differences in the background - instead of the plain wall of the pictures by Drer and Joos van Cleve, here the wall is decorated with a fine clock, a lobed architectural element reminiscent of the mirror in Jan van Eyck's Arnolfini Marriage (London, National Gallery) and a view to a private chapel beyond, where Saint Jerome's lion rests before the altar. A pentiment near the lion suggests that yet another feature may have been present. The monogram on the cushion near the altar, which may read 'WA' (linked), or alternately 'NA', has not yet been definitively identified.