An old man sits comfortably reclined in a pastoral landscape underneath a tree. His slippers have fallen off his feet and he is completely immersed in the book he is reading. We can only identify him as Saint Jerome by the lion standing behind him on a rocky outcrop, overlooking the landscape and guarding the saint's secluded spot. Rembrandt has omitted the saint's other attributes - the skull and the crucifix - and instead of the usual cardinal's hat has given him a broad-brimmed sunhat.
This is not an image of the saint doing penance in the wilderness, but of the old scholar enjoying a bit of sunshine and quiet outdoors. By straying far from the traditional iconography, Rembrandt has in fact created an almost entirely secular image. The little bird on the tree-stump may still be a subtle reference to the Holy Ghost inspiring the saintly scholar, yet it is not the saint but the landscape and the light which are the true protagonists of the scene.
From the sketchily etched saint, bathed in sunlight, across the similarly cursory yet wonderfully vivid lion in the shade, the eye is drawn once more into the light, towards the large farmhouse in the background. It is this meticulously described building on the hill which gave this print its customary name. To connoisseurs of Venetian 16th century art, this structure is instantly recognizable and brings to mind the landscapes of Giorgione, Titian and their followers - Rembrandt's towered farmhouse is almost certainly based on the engraving of Shepherds in a Landscape by Giulio and Domenico Campagnola.
Early commentators regretted the seemingly 'unfinished' state of this print, yet it is precisely this interplay of a merely sketched foreground and a highly detailed background, and of light and darkness, which give the composition rhythm and depth and bring the scene to life. In this print Rembrandt's deliberate, masterful use of blank paper to indicate bright sunshine on the one hand, and heavy drypoint to imitate deep shadows on the other, is particularly effective. With a brilliant, early impression such as the present one, it becomes apparent why Saint Jerome in an Italianate Landscape is one of Rembrandt's most desirable and charming etchings.
This impression compares well with the beautiful impression from the Felix Slade Collection in the British Museum.