This detail entitled “Leon bebiendo” or “Drinking Lion” is a drawing made with black pencil and sanguine on yellow laid paper. Preserved in the Prado Museum, little is known about the work, which, perhaps due to its fragility, is rarely exposed to the public. The drawing occupies the entire piece of paper which exaggerates the enormous size of the beast.
The drawing possibly could have been made as a study for the canvas of Saint Jerome in penitence that was in the upper sacristy of the Monastery of El Escorial, signed in 1569. The historian of the Hieronymite order, Fray José de Sigüenza said that he had never seen a landscape by a Flemish painter that was more detailed or more highly finished, suggesting that Navarrete’s representation of Jerome in penitence rivals those of the Flemish tradition, his liberal Venetian training notwithstanding.
Navarrete portrays a humble and moralized lion who bows down with his tongue out, drinking. It is not a lion who is about to prey or attack; rather, he is innocent, licking at the water. As the legend goes, St. Jerome was giving a lecture to his students in Bethlehem. A limping lion came to him, causing everyone to flee from fear. However, the saint welcomed the lion, examined his foot, and extracted the thorn from it. This cured the foot and the lion remained loyal to St Jerome and stayed with him until death.
At the bottom of the drawing is Navarrete’s signature, “by the dumb one” (de el Mudo), which demonstrates how he wished to be identified.