The present composition is comparable to Testa's Allegory of the Massacre of the Innocents (Spada Gallery, Rome), painted shortly after the artist's return to Rome, in 1637. In that work, an allegory of Innocence, surrounded by putti, descends on a cloud over the massacre scene, while the Holy Family flees in the background landscape.
Here, the Cardinal Virtues appear to Saint Jerome, as he prays to fight against temptation. The allegories of Justice (the blindfolded figure), Prudence, Fortitude (wearing a helmet) and Temperance are seated on a cloud. Putti hold their emblems, respectively a sword, a mirror, a spear and a bridle, and surround the hermit. Temptation is depicted as a putto crowned with a laurel wreath who tries to lure the saint away to the bacchic orgy visible in the background.
The complexity of the subject reveals Testa's sophisticated and conceptual approach to art, stimulated by contact with Domenichino, Dal Pozzo, Poussin, Du Quesnoy, and Bellori, amongst others. The figure of Saint Jerome derives from a print by Pier Francesco Mola (a friend of Testa, who drew a portrait of him in 1637), Saint Andrew adoring the cross before martyrdom.
We are grateful to Professor Riccardo Lattuada for suggesting the attribution to Testa after inspection of the original and to Dr. Keith Christiansen for confirming the attribution also after inspection of the original.