SAINT JEROME – Caravaggio 1606
This painting was made by Caravaggio for Scipione Borghese, now a faithful admirer of the artist. He was among the first works of the artist to become part of the collection of the powerful cardinal. Probably Caravaggio wanted to thank him with this painting for intervening in solving some of his judicial troubles. The painter was in fact known for his impulsive temperament, easy to clash and anger that caused him many problems during his short life. The protagonist of the picture is St. Jerome, a hermit, doctor of the Church and author of the translation of the Bible from Hebrew to Latin, the so-called “Vulgate”. The saint is very frequent in the paintings of the Catholic Counter-Reformation period and in fact Caravaggio himself made at least two other canvases with the same subject. One is conserved in the Cathedral of San Giovanni in Valletta, on the island of Malta and the other in the monastery of Montserrat in Spain.
In the work we are struck by the splendid representation of the still life on the table and the strong chromatic impact given by the red mantle that surrounds the figure of the saint. Caravaggio describes Girolamo as an elder curved on the books of the Holy Scriptures, so he appears to us more a scholar than a penitent hermit who he was. In fact, man is concentrated in his work of critical explanation of the biblical text, in order to fully understand its meaning and spread it to all the faithful. The head of Saint Jerome, intent on reading and interpretation, symbolically opposes the vanity of earthly goods, represented by the skull.
Life and death, past and present seem to face each other in the painting that is divided into two large fields of color. The one characterized by the warm tones of the saint’s skin and his coat, the other by the cold tones of the open book on which the skull stands and the white cloth. You will notice a very rapid execution given by an immediacy in the application of the color, applied with very evident brushstrokes that could make us think of a canvas left unfinished. Magical and typical of Caravaggio is the use of light that breaks into a slightly outlined environment, making the colors emerge from the bottom. From red through a variety of browns to white. The artist does not indulge in aesthetic idealizations in portraying the saint, focusing on details such as the wrinkles of the forehead or the long gray and unkempt beard, giving us another masterpiece of great realism.