Saint Jerome Writing 1607 Caravaggio Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Saint Jerome Writing is an artwork by a famous Italian artist, Caravaggio.

Also known as Saint Jerome in His Study, or simply Saint Jerome, the favourite painting sits in the Galleria Borghese in Rome, Italy. The artwork is one of the many paintings that reflect on Caravaggio’s strong religious perspectives.

Like many of his other paintings, Caravaggio created this outstanding artwork in 1606. The art also reflects Caravaggio’s spectacular style of placing his images on a dark background and drawing attention to the most important parts using light.

This picture depicts Saint Jerome, a doctor of the church and a popular subject in Caravaggio’s artworks. The Saint is reading intently, one of his outstretched arms resting on the table with a quill, perhaps ready to put to paper what he is reading. Many scholars have suggested that Saint Jerome might have been translating the Vulgate. Something seems strange in the painting: a skull facing Saint Jerome. It is rather strange because a skull is a symbol of death, and nobody expects a saint to have it because it means someone must have lost their lives to decorate Saint Jerome’s reading table.

Caravaggio was a religious individual. Most of his paintings tell the story of a man seeking to understand the meaning of his existence through Biblical themes. A saint is a holy person, exalted by God himself to a position of high esteem and honour. Consequently, the painting aims to impact powerfully on the audience into re-evaluating their lives from a religious perspective. The saint, visibly old, still makes himself useful by reading and translating the Vulgate. It is evident that the meaning of one’s existence lies in rendering service to the community, as the saint is doing.

Scholars date the painting to the period between 1605 and 1606, basing their views on the statements of the 17th-century historical biographer, Gian Pietro Bellori. Bellori suggests that Caravaggio must have created this piece at the best of Scipione Borghese who turned Cardinal in 1605. Scholars further validate the dating of this picture on the premise that it originates from Caravaggio’s late Roman period which ended in 1606 when the artist found himself in exile in Malta. Few other scholars, such as Denis Mahon, peg the image to the time from 1602 to 1604 though no further evidence exists to corroborate his position.

Saint Jerome Writing is a powerful and awe-inspiring painting that defines the legacy of Caravaggio as a painter of the early 17th century. The painting depicts Saint Jerome intently reading something while his outstretched arm holds a quill. The saint is most likely trying to translate a piece of text to reach a broad audience. A skull sits on the table next to the hand with the quill. Caravaggio has used light to draw attention to the saint and the head while leaving the background dark.