Andrés de Leito
Penitent Saint Jerome, 17th c.

Documented in Segovia and Madrid, between 1656 – 1663
Oil on canvas
184 x 157 cm

The discovery in the church of La Trinidad in Segovia of an Annunciation signed in 1662 has opened the doors to the re-appreciation of one of the least understood aspects of Andrés de Leito’s artistic output, namely, his paintings of religious themes such as the Penitent Saint Jerome presented here.[1] Apart from the signed Expulsion of the merchants from the Temple in the Museo del Prado (cat. 3125) (fig. 1), the sole previous reference to de Leito’s religioius painting is the mention, ratified in the will the painter drew up in Madrid in 1663, of his involvement in 1661 in a series of paintings on the life of Saint Francis, alongside a painter called Sarabia and an artist from Valladolid by the name of Felipe Gil de Mena.[2]

The figure of Andrés de Leito is still largely shrouded in mystery, due not only to the shortage of documentation but also to the fact he did not “merit” any particular attention from Palomino who referred to him solely when talking about Mateo Cerezo.  According to Palomino, Cerezo was a painter of still lifes “of such consummate skill that none could surpass him, if any could even match him… even if they are those of Andrés de Leito, who painted some excellent ones for this court.”[3]  It is through this that we know de Leito’s pictorial output consisted of both still lifes and Vanitas, several of them signed with the monogram AE.  These are highly personal creations, with, in the still lifes for example, one or two figures in the Flemish style. At times the brushstrokes are vibrant, at others evanescent, the lighting golden with occasional “flashes” of stippling.

These are the ingredients of the Expulsion of the money changers from the Temple.[4] Although it has little in common with the Annunciation in Segovia, like all the artist’s output, it is painted “with better taste in colour than accuracy in the drawing, and with consummate skill.”[5]  Its luminosity, method, feeling for colour and style are consistent with the prevailing modes in the Madrid of de Leito’s time.  The signature and monogram dispel any doubt, and in view of the painter’s will and the date it was drawn up, it probably corresponds to the final stages of his artistic career.  Its authorship furthermore leads to the attribution to de Leito of the Penitent Magdalene in the Museum of Sacred Art in Corella, a painting with a mysterious flair that includes some of the technical and formal devices from his Vanitas such as the book and skull (fig. 2).

[1] F. Collar de Cáceres, “Andrés de Leyto: revisión pictórica,” in Anuario del Departamento de Historia y Teoría del Arte, vol. 20, 2008, pp.9-20.

[2] According to Ponz, “in the Convent of San Francisco there is a painting of the Life of Saint Francis bya certain Andrés de Leyto, and another master called Sarabia.”  A. Ponz, Viage de España, X, 36, p.248, Madrid 1787. Palomino believed all the paintings were by de Mena. A. Palomino, “El Parnaso español pintoresco laureado,” in El Museo pictórico y escala óptica, Madrid, 1947, p.977. Peter Cherry has verified that the series was painted in different stages (1656, 1659, and 1661) – although it is difficult to identify the work by each painter – and that five of the paintings were bought from Madrid in 1661 after being retouched, and it stands to reason that they were the ones painted by de Leito. P. Cherry, Arte y Naturalieza. El bodegón español del Siglo de Oro, Madrid, 1999, p.539.

[3] Palomino, op. cit., p.978.

[4] It is mainly in relation to this painting that we attribute to him Belshazzar’s Feast, now in a private collection in Massachusetts; it was up until now believed that this work was by Juan Carreño de Miranda.

[5] Cited by A. Céan Bermúdez, Diccionario de los más ilustres profesores de las Bellas Artes en España, III, Madrid, 1800, p.34.

The Penitent Saint Jerome studied here is a very similar canvas to the one in Corella.  Not only are they almost the same size but the scene is also set in a grotto, this time in Bethlehem.  The saint is half-clothed and kneeling, with a stone in his hand, the lion behind him, and a skull at his feet which functions as a makeshift lantern. He is startled by the appearance of a herald angel announcing the Last Judgement.

The composition occurs often in the paintings we associate with de Leito, from the Penitent Magdalane to the still lifes in the Abelló Colleciton.[1] In this case the model – also found in Jan H. Müller, Aertsen, Crispijn de Passe, and even Carreño – is the painting on the same subject attributed to Alonso Cano who appears to have been, in turn, inspired by Tintoretto (fig. 3)  De Leito compresses the composition into an almost square format that involves a drastic reduction in the landscape, yet the basic elements – beginning with the sinuous diagonal division of the canvas into two main areas – remain almost unaltered.  The typological, stylistic and technical differences nonetheless imbue the scene with a completely different dimension.  Whereas Cano’s Saint Jerome is sinewy, sturdy and powerful, the figure here is a frail old man with a thin physique whose naked body is covered not with a coarse fabric but with a fine cloth which appears to be an altar cloth or alb.  In a similar vein, the bold drawing and emphatic plasticity of Cano gives way to a strictly pictorial approach and strangely diffuse effect consistent with the rarified atmosphere of De Leito’s earlier still lifes and Vanitas paintings.

The chromatic saturation of the space occupied by the figure (of a generally ochre tone like the figure itself,) the added red of the cardinal’s attire, painted in a carefree manner, and the two small areas of white (representing the beard and cloth,) contrast with the upper left-hand corner, from which the angel enters. This area consists of a seemingly transparent and sparkling space, with iridescent lights that extend into the landscape itself, and shapes – such as the figure of the heavenly messenger – which are hazy and disconnected.  The same features and devices, division of areas and landscape are to be found in the Penitent Magdalene in Corella which depicts two playful angels of singular lightness with a perfume holder similar to the one depicted in several of de Leito’s Vanitas paintings.  The conceptual, iconographic, stylistic and material unity of these two paintings, and the highly personal emotional interpretation of the saints – Magdalene with feverish abstraction, Saint Jerome wary and restless – confirm that the paintings must have been designed originally as a pair.

Fernando Collar de Cáceres


Fig. 1. Andrés de Leito, Expulsion of the merchants from the Temple, Museo del Prado, Madrid.

Fig. 2 Andrés de Leito, Penitent Magdalene (185 x 160 cm), Museo de Arte Sacro, Corella.

Fig. 3 Alonso Cano, Penitent Saint Jerome, Museo de Bellas Artes, Granada.