We are grateful to Professor Nicola Spinosa for confirming the attribution on the basis of photographs and to Professor Riccardo Lattuada for independently confirming the attribution given after inspection of the original. Professor Spinosa will include the picture in his forthcoming catalogue raisonné on the artist. Spinosa dates the picture to circa 1634 on grounds of its stylistic affinities with several dated works from that year: among them, the Saint Jerome in the Thyssen Bornemisza collection and the Saint Zaccarias in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen. Ribera was at the height of his powers in the mid-1630s and produced many of his most celebrated mature works. The Neapolitan Viceroy, the Conde de Monterrey, was his most important patron during this period, and for the convent of the Agustinas Desclazas, founded by Monterrey in Salamanca, Ribera painted the great Pietà in 1634, the Immaculate Conception in 1635, and the Saint Augustine in 1636 (all in situ). Also from 1634 was the Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew, sold at Sotheby's, London, 4 July 1990, lot 83, now in the National Gallery, Washington.
The theme of Saint Jerome was one that Ribera treated repeatedly throughout his career, its popularity no doubt assured by its capacity to stimulate religious sentiment and spiritual meditation. Seldom is this made more clear than in the present picture where the Saint is shown staring at a skull held in his left hand whilst contemplating his own mortality. The intensity of feeling is enhanced by Ribera's tenebrist handling of light and his mastery of the nude in which his characteristically lively and dense application of paint can still be appreciated in full.
A version of the present picture is in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Pau, and is considered by Spinosa to be inferior and possibly a copy of the present work.