Joachim Patinir created this image just as landscape painting was coming into its own as a separate and distinct subject in art for the first time since the ancient Roman era. This painting by Patinir and others like it really exist somewhere between an image of a saint and a painting of the landscape, but the setting wants to be the star here. It won’t be long before artists in Northern Europe drop the subject altogether and paint pure landscapes.
Patinir had a system. He often painted the hermit saints Jerome and Anthony probably because it was a terrific excuse to create a scene outdoors. He used browns in the foreground, greens in the middle ground, and blues in the distance to help create the illusion of receding space. In his paintings, Patnir also painted large outcroppings of rocks, like the one here behind St. Jerome that dominates the composition.
What about those huge rocks? They are not dissimilar to the ones that Leonardo da Vinci painted in the background of his famous Mona Lisa only a few years earlier. They could represent a fad or fantasy. Patinir also may have been inspired by rocks in his hometown of Dinant, Belgium that look just like the ones in his paintings.