Virgin of Humility (left) and Saint Jerome Translating the Gospel of John (right), diptych. Attributed to Benedetto di Bindo, also called Benedetto di Bindo Zoppo, Italian (active Siena and Perugia), first securely documented 1409, died 1417.
The hinged panels of this little diptych contain an unusual juxtaposition of two subjects in which books play a distinguishing role. On the right Saint Jerome translates into Latin the opening lines of the Gospel of John. (The artist has rendered the Latin correctly, but not the unfamiliar Greek original.) On the left, the nursing Virgin is seated on the floor as a sign of her humility, while a small manuscript, known as a book of hours, rests on the bench behind her. This text, which contained prayers to be recited at regular hourly intervals, is open to an invocation intoned at 3 p.m., a symbol of the time of Christ's death that cultured fifteenth-century viewers would have understood as prophesying the fate of the baby. Jerome's scholarly pursuit likewise suggests the respect accorded to book learning for its ability to elucidate the hidden meanings of seemingly common images like a nursing mother.