Saint Jerome Writing
Saint Jerome Writing, also known as Saint Jerome in His Study or Saint Jerome, is an oil painting by Caravaggio, generally dated 1605-1606.
The painting shows Saint Jerome, a Doctor of the Church in Roman Catholicism, who was a famous subject for painting. Caravaggio also created other paintings of him in Meditation and engaged in writing. The artwork was executed fast, so there are irregularities in the rendering of the beard and the outlines of the books and cloak.
Thus, it has been suggested that the work is not completed.
The artwork was executed for Cardinal Scipione Borghese in the 17th century. Famous art historian, Giovanni Pietro Bellori, recounts in his “Vite de’ pittori, scultori e architetti moderni” (1672) that the canvas was in the Borghese Collection in the mid 17 century, when it was hanging in the Stanza del Moro. The masterpiece was attributed to Caravaggio in 1693, and later, from 1790 onwards, it was ascribed to Jusepe de Ribera. However, most art historians claim that the painting should be dated to the end of Caravaggio’s artist period (1606).
The main features are the illusionistic representation of the still life on the table and the power of the red cloak enveloping the white-haired figure of the saint. In this artwork, Saint Jerome is not depicted as a penitent, as is often the case, but rather as a scholar.
His head counterbalanced with the skull, he is focused on reading and annotating the sacred passages and symbolically counters the futility of worldly goods. The concept of St. Jerome’s Writing is itself an astonishing achievement, in which the composition and the subject strengthen each other: an aging saint, hectically concentrating on what he has written, extends a twisting hand to the inkwell on the other side of the table, and at the same time points to the skull, a reminder about death, which symmetrically observes him in his very struggle to overcome it.
Just as the Protestants wanted to translate the Bible into local languages to make the Word of God available to ordinary believers, the Catholics sought to justify using the standard Latin version made by Saint Jerome at the end of the fourth century. One pope baptized Jerome.
The other entrusted him the assignment of a translator and called St. Peter the first bishop of Rome. Among the Latin Fathers of the Church, he was a powerful ally against modern heretics who attacked the cult of the saints, limited the use of Latin by scholars, and viewed the papacy as the whore of Babylon. It is fitting that Scipione Borghese bought this image.
Jerome was shown in the days before the Reformation with a lion and a cardinal’s hat. Now the Catholic reformers wanted to reduce religious art to its foundations. So the virtuous cardinal, whose extensive features were invented and caricatured by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, acquired an artwork as strict as it was gloomy.
A thin older man, whose face resembles the model that Abraham was, Matthew and one of the Apostles with Thomas, is sitting, thinking about the codex of the Bible, while his right hand is ready to write. While in the Renaissance, Antonello da Messina and Dürer turned him into a wealthy scientist, Caravaggio reduced Jerome’s possessions to a minimum. The harsh lighting underlines the muscles of his tired arms and the parallel between his bony head and skull — a man is born to die, but the Word of God lives forever.