Magnificent Beards: St. Jerome

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Caravaggio, Saint Jerome, 1608
Magnificent Beards
By HARPER TRUOG

Saint Jerome’s beard is long and white, not curly. It goes well with the red robe which gives him a real saintly look. His bald head looks like the skull on his desk. The lighting is great, especially on the beard. Does he ever get ink in his beard? Do long beard enhance holiness and wisdom? Saint Jerome is sitting at his desk working like anyone else would, putting holy figures in human scenes in Caravaggio’s specialty.

Caravaggio’s use of light never fails to impress. The skull on the desk is highlighted and bright against the dark, almost black, background. Skulls in paintings usually mean the ever presence of death. Saint Jerome translated the Bible into Latin, a dead language. He also died of old age and since that is the age being depicted in the this painting, he is close to death. The red cloak indicates his rank as cardinal even though there were no cardinals during his lifetime. It is added in for artistic interpretation because he was secretary to the pope and those people were depicted as cardinals.

Caravaggio rarely puts halos on holy figures, but he chose to in this painting. It is thin and small, but stands out against the dark background. Saint Jerome is associated with encyclopedias literature, so he is usually depicted writing a book. Saint Jerome’s beard adds to his experience living as a hermit. It’s long and shaggy signifying his religious status and living conditions.

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