It is a bright clear day, and a baby boy is having a rare frolic out of doors, on his mother's knee. It is the little Christ-child, and his visitors are St. Jerome and Mary Magdalene. Overhead a red cloth drapery has been stretched from tree to tree, making a sort of canopy to protect the company from the direct rays of the sun. St. Jerome has brought as an offering the books which represent the scholarly toil of many years. Mary Magdalene has her jar of ointment for the anointing of the Saviour's feet.

The mother sits on a slight elevation in the centre, her bare foot resting on the ground. St. Jerome stands in front, a little at one side, where he can hold a book directly before the child's face. Mary Magdalene, half kneeling on the other side, stoops to caress a little foot. The sturdy old father seems to have come directly from his monastery in Bethlehem, and his lion follows him like a faithful dog. The old legend relates that as he sat one evening at his monastery gate, a lion approached, holding up a paw which was pierced with a thorn. The good father removed the thorn and dressed the wound, and the grateful beast became thenceforth the constant companion of his benefactor.

The scroll in St. Jerome's right hand may be any one of his many treatises or translations. The large open volume is undoubtedly his Latin version of the Bible. One side of the book is supported on his left hand, while the other is held by an attendant angel, who turns the pages for the Christ-child. There is something very interesting on the page now open, and the angel points a slender finger to a particular passage. The child is wrought up to the highest pitch of excitement. He stretches out his legs and arms, his whole body stiffening in a tremor of joy. He fairly pants with eagerness for the treasure just beyond his grasp. Though not a pretty boy, he is so full of life that we find him very captivating.

Old St. Jerome looks immensely pleased with the child's delight. The angel playfellow is delighted with his success in amusing the baby, and laughs sympathetically with him. The mother smiles with gentle indulgence, and holds him firmly lest he spring from her arms. Mary Magdalene appears almost unconscious of what is going on. Her whole being is absorbed in loving devotion. She has caught one little foot lightly by the heel, and, drawing it towards her, lays her cheek against the soft knee. Her hair is unbound, and falls in long tresses over her neck. In throwing out his arms, the child's left hand has fallen on the golden head, and here it rests as if he returned the caress. In the mean time a mischievous urchin, who may be the boy Baptist, holds the Magdalene's jar of ointment. He stands behind her like a small lackey, and sniffs curiously at the contents of the pot.

Parma Gallery

If it seems strange that St. Jerome and Mary Magdalene should be here together, we must remember that the painters of Correggio's time did not try to represent sacred scenes with historical accuracy. It was customary to bring together in a picture persons who lived in altogether different periods and countries. The meaning of such pictures was symbolic. The Christians of all ages constitute a communion of the saints who meet at the Christ-child's feet.

The two saints here make a fine artistic contrast,—the rugged and grizzled old man, and the lovely golden-haired maiden. The splendid muscular strength of the one is offset against the radiant beauty of the other. In a devotional sense also the contrast is most appropriate. St. Jerome has served the Christ with great powers of intellect; Mary Magdalene brings only a woman's loving heart. The one has written great books; the other could do nothing but anoint the Saviour's feet. Yet the two kinds of service are equally important. St. Jerome's translations have carried the gospel over the world, and it is written that "Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her."[34]

[34] St. Matthew, chapter xxvi., verse 13.

The composition of the picture is on a diagonal plan similar to that which we have already noticed in his pictures.[35] The structural line may be traced from the top of St. Jerome's head across the shoulders and back of Mary Magdalene. The edge of the canopy overhead emphasizes this line by following the same general direction. The child's figure behind the Magdalene balances the figure of the lion in the left corner.

[35] See chapters IX. and XIII.

The landscape which lies beyond the canopy is an important and beautiful part of the picture. Without this spacious distance in the background the large figures filling the foreground would crowd the composition unpleasantly. It is a relief to the eye to traverse this stretch of sunny country.

The picture makes it possible for us to understand why Correggio has been called a painter of "light and space and motion." All three characteristics are admirably illustrated here. In color, too, the original painting is very fine. The Virgin wears the usual red robe and blue mantle, the colors denoting love and constancy. St. Jerome has a blue drapery about the hips and a crimson mantle, while the angel's tunic and Mary Magdalene's mantle are yellow.

It is the clear golden atmosphere flooding the scene which gives it the Italian name of "Il Giorno," The Day.