St Jerome sits writing

St Jerome sits writing 

St Jerome sits writing in this well-known painting by Caravaggio. It’s in St John’s Co-Cathedral in Malta, which is ornate and magnificently baroque. It represents a moment of calm almost austere concentration amidst the florid gold around it in the rest of the Cathedral. It depicts Jerome in an awkward pose for writing, though it displays him and what he is doing to the seeing I in considerable detail. He is translating and writing the Vulgate Bible, a bible in Latin. It depicts a symbolic moment of calm activity in the fourth or early fifth century AD from the viewpoint of Caravaggio’s early seventeenth century.

There is paper, still a new development in Jerome’s day. Jerome writes with pen and ink; the paper is in a bound volume. His focus is on the act of writing, which also directs the gaze of the person looking at him, and at the painting in its entirety. Almost always, Jerome is shown with the tools of the scholar: paper, pen, books, letters, libraries. He also wrote some excellent letters and commented in one of them on how new technology – paper – had transformed the genre. Part of one is shown here.

Jerome writes that even in the ‘savage’ times of wooden waxed tablets or papyrus, people had made the absent present, had filled absence with the semi-presence made possible by writing letters. He adds the moral that, now it’s so much easier in the ‘civilised’ fourth century with its new technology of paper coupled with pen and ink, it is important to do our social duty and reach out to those we are connected with but parted from and to write letters to them.

 

 

 

 

 

Last updated: 7 December 2017


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