Just moved to Halifax, starting journalism school. Excited.
I’ve had this painting stuck in my head for the last few days:
The artist is Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. He was born in 1571, about a hundred years after the more famous Michelangelo who painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Caravaggio introduced a grittier style of painting into the Renaissance tradition. When he painted saints, he covered them in wrinkles and blemishes and put them in gambling dens and on street corners. Caravaggio is my favourite painter, and this is my favourite piece from him.
The subject is St. Jerome, a 4th-century Christian historian, writer and translator. Jerome produced what would eventually become the authoritative Latin translation of the Bible, referred to as the Vulgate. Jerome’s translation, along with his interpretations and misinterpretations, was the basis of Christian theology and worship at least until the 19th century and the development of modern biblical scholarship. It would also have been the most widely read book in the European world.
History lesson over. Basically, this painting depicts a hugely influential writer in the midst of the project which made him hugely influential.
I like the bald head — always and everywhere the the physical embodiment of immense temporal and spiritual wisdom. I like the furrowed brow and frazzled hair, indicating intense concentration on a single segment of text. I like the well-muscled writing arm extending out from the otherwise frail old body. But most of all I like the skull; it adds a sense of urgency to the scene. The old man doesn’t want to die before he finishes his big thing.
p.s. If you’re in Ottawa, go visit the special exhibit on Caravaggio in the national gallery. It’s on till 11 September.