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Saint Jerome

Merisi Michelangelo called Caravaggio

(Milan 1571 - Porto Ercole 1610)

According to Giovanni Pietro Bellori, the painting was made by the artist for Cardinal Scipione Borghese, a sophisticated and avid collector, known among his contemporaries for being one of the greatest admirers of the promising Lombard painter.

The painting depicts St. Jerome, a doctor of the Church, studying the Sacred Scriptures which, according to tradition, he translated from Greek to Latin. In fact, the saint is hailed for his qualities as a studious man, portrayed as an elderly humanist hunched over the complex exegesis of the sacred text.

The compositional partitioning into two large fields of colour, distinguished by warm tones – such as the skin of the saint and the purple mantle – and cold ones – the skull and white cloth standing out against the open book – seems to emphasise a symbolic dialogue between contrasting contents: life and death, past and present.

Because of some rapidly painted details and the straightforward way the paint was applied, some critics have hypothesised that the canvas was never completed.


Object details

1606 circa
oil on canvas
cm 116 x 153
Cornice ottocentesca decorata con palmette.

Rome, Cardinal Scipione Borghese (Bellori 1672, p. 208). Inv. 1693, room II, no. 43. Inv. 1790, room V, no. 19. Inventario Fidecommissario 1833, p. 33; purchased by Italian state, 1902.



  • 1914 Roma, Palazzo Corsini;
  • 1922 Firenze, Palazzo Pitti;
  • 1951 Milano, Palazzo Reale;
  • 1986-1987 Roma, Palazzo Barberini;
  • 1991 Firenze, Palazzo Pitti;
  • 1992 Roma, Palazzo Ruspoli;
  • 1999 Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado;
  • 1999-2000 Bilbao, Museo de Bellas Artes;
  • 2001 Okazaki, City Museum;
  • 2001 Tokyo, Museo Teien;
  • 2005-2006 Milano, Palazzo Reale;
  • 2006 Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum;
  • 2006-2007 Dusseldorf, Museum Kunst Palast;
  • 2012 Belo Horizonte, Casa Fiat de Cultura;
  • 2012 Buenos Aires, Museo Nazionale delle Belle Arti;
  • 2013 San Pietroburgo, Hermitage Museum;
  • 2014-2015 Roma, Palazzo Barberini;
  • 2016-2017 Milano, Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana;
  • 2017-2018 Los Angeles, The J. Paul Getty Museum;
  • 2018-2019 Parigi, Musée Jacquemart-André.
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1941 Carlo Matteucci;
  • 1947 Carlo Matteucci;
  • 1965 Renato Massi (pulitura, risanamento giunture, stuccatura e doratura della cornice);
  • 1968 Oddo Verdinelli;
  • 1981-1983 Gianluigi Colalucci (restauro completo);
  • 1988 Seracini-Lappucci (indagini diagnostiche);
  • 1996 Elena Zivieri, Guido Piervincenzi (consolidamento, disinfezione e risanamento della cornice)
  • 2001 Emmebici (indagini diagnostiche);
  • 2001 Giantomassi-Zari.


Although we have no documentation concerning the date of its entry into the Borghese Collection, critics are certain that this painting came into the possession of the family at the behest of Cardinal Scipione, as Giovanni Pietro Bellori duly noted in 1672: ‘For the cardinal [Borghese] he executed a work with St Jerome extending his hand and pen toward the inkwell as he writes attentively (Bellori 1672, p. 208).

Slightly dissenting from his colleagues, Maurizio Calvesi proposed that the canvas was not commissioned by the powerful prelate but was rather personally donated to him by Caravaggio: aided by the well-known collector in one of his many juridical run-ins, the artist repaid him with this painting, in which the cardinal’s cassock worn by Jerome is intended as a tribute to his protector.

The work was mentioned for the first time in a description of the villa made by Iacomo Manilli in 1650. It was then listed in the 1693 inventory as ‘a large canvas painting with St Jerome writing and a skull: no. 316, in a gilded frame. By Caravaggio’. In spite of this document, in 1790 the work was mistakenly ascribed to Jusepe de Ribera. This attribution was retained in both the Inventario Fidecommissario and by Adolfo Venturi in 1893. Several years later, Ettore Modigliani again proposed the name of Caravaggio, an opinion, however, which was not accepted by Matteo Marangoni, Nikolaus Pevsner and Ludwig Schudt. The attributions of these three scholars were in turn strongly criticised by Hermann Voss, Lionello Venturi, Sir Denis Mahon, Aldo De Rinaldis, Roger Hinks and Walter Friedländer.

In 1951, Roberto Longhi included the painting in an exhibition of works by Caravaggio, held in Milan; critics unanimously supported the attribution. In 1959, Paola Della Pergola concurred when she published the work in the catalogue of the Galleria Borghese.

Longhi believed the work to be among the last ones of the artist’s Roman period, dating it to 1605-6. This opinion was generally accepted by scholars, with the exception of Mahon, who anticipated the period of its execution to 1602-4. According to Mina Gregori, the painting was probably conceived together with the Madonna and Child with Saint Anne (Madonna dei palafrenieri, inv. no. 110) – that is, in 1605-6 – taking as its model the head of the elderly saint in Montserrat’s St Jerome as well as that of the central apostle in Caravaggio’s own Death of the Virgin (Paris, Louvre). For his part, Friedländer traced the saint’s face to older works, citing in particular the man with glasses in The Calling of Saint Matthew (Rome, Church of St. Louis of the French), the apostle Peter in the Crucifixion of Saint Peter, and Saul’s servant in Conversion on the Way to Damascus (Cerasi family chapel, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome).

The limited quantity of paint used in the work, the summary representation of some details – such as the irregularity of the beard and the rapid execution of the cassock – as well as several elements that seem to indicate that the painter had second thoughts – evident in the left hand, the right arm, the face and the pose of the saint – inclined Maurizio Marini to propose that the painting was unfinished. In 1983, however, Mia Cinotti rejected this idea.

  Antonio Iommelli

  • I. Manilli, Villa Borghese fuori di Porta Pinciana, Roma 1650, p. 85; 
  • G.P. Bellori, Le vite de’ pittori, scultori et architetti moderni, Roma 1672, p. 208;
  • A. Manazzale, Itinerario, 1817, I, p. 243;
  • E. e C. Platner, Beschreibung der Stadt Rom, Stuttgart-Tübingen 1830-1842, III, I, p. 295; 
  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese, in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 374; 
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 62; 
  • J.A. Rusconi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Bergamo 1906, p. 81; 
  • L. Venturi, Note sulla Galleria Borghese, in “L’Arte”, XII, 1909, p. 39; 
  • G. Rouchès, Le Caravage, Paris 1920, p. 87; 
  • Mostra della pittura italiana del Seicento e del Settecento, catalogo della mostra (Firenze 1922), a cura di N. Tarchiani, Roma 1922, p. 50; 
  • M. Marangoni, II Caravaggio, Firenze 1922;
  • L. Schudt, Caravaggio, Wien 1942, p. 54; 
  • M. Marangoni, Note sul Caravaggio alla Mostra del Sei e Settecento, in “Bollettino d’Arte”, N. S. II, 1922-1923, p. 220; 
  • H. Voss, Die Malerei des Barock in Rom, Berlin 1924, p. 73; 
  • L. Venturi, Il Caravaggio, Roma 1925, p. 12; 
  • M. Marangoni, Arte Barocca, Firenze 1927, p. 152; 
  • N. Pevsner, Eine Revision der Caravaggio Daten, in “Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst”, LXI, 1927-1928, p. 387; 
  • A. von Schneider, Entlehnungen Heindrick Ter Brugghens aus dem Werk Caravaggio’s, in “Oud Holland”, XLIV, 1927, p. 267; 
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  • Catalogo della Mostra del Seicento e Settecento in Palazzo Pitti, Roma-Firenze 1930, I, p. 47; 
  • G. Isarlo, Catalogues. Caravage et le Caravagisme européen (II), Aix-en-Provence 1941, p. 95; 
  • A. De Rinaldis, Catalogo della Galleria Borghese, Roma 1948, p. 59; 
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  • Mostra del Caravaggio e dei Caravaggeschi, catalogo della mostra (Milano 1951), Firenze 1951, p. 29; 
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  • L. Menassè, Il Caravaggio a Roma, in “Capitolium”, XXVII, 1952, p. 95; 
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  • L. Grassi, Il Caravaggio (dispense a cura di M. Carreri e M. R. Donati), Roma 1953, pp. 103, 181; 
  • D. Mahon, Contrast in Art-historical Method: Two Recent Approaches to Caravaggio, in “The Burlington Magazine”, XCV, 1953, p. 213 (nota 9); 
  • R. Hinks, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio – His Life, his Legend, his Works, London 1953, pp. 27, 71, 112; 
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  • J. Bialostocki Caravaggio, Warsawa 1955, p. 45; 
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  • L. Ferrara Galleria Borghese, Novara 1956, p. 136; 
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  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, vol. II, Roma 1959, pp. 80-81, n. 115; 
  • P. della Pergola, L’Inventario Borghese del 1693, in "Arte antica e moderna", XXVI, 1964, p. 224;
  • M. Marini, Io, Michelangelo da Caravaggio, Roma 1974, pp. 202, 413-416; 
  • H. Roettgen Il Caravaggio. Ricerche e interpretazioni, Roma 1974, p. 117; 
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  • H. Hibbard, Caravaggio, New York-London 1983, pp. 193-194;
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  • M. Gregori, scheda in Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. Come nascono i capolavori, catalogo della mostra (Firenze, Palazzo Pitti-Sala Bianca, 1991-1992; Roma, Palazzo Ruspoli, 1992), a cura di M. Gregori, Milano 1992, pp. 274-280;
  • M. Calvesi, Tra vastità di orizzonti e puntuali prospettive: il collezionismo di Scipione Borghese dal Caravaggio al Reni al Bernini, in Galleria Borghese, a cura di A. Coliva, Roma 1994, pp. 274-276; 
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  • A. Coliva, in Caravaggio e i suoi: percorsi caravaggeschi in Palazzo Barberini, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, 1999), a cura di C. Strinati, Napoli 1999, pp. 128-129; 
  • M. Marini, Caravaggio, "pictor praestantissimus": l’iter artistico completo di uno dei massimi rivoluzionari dell’arte di tutti i tempi, Roma 2001, pp. 504-505, n. 74; 
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  • N. Hartje, Caravaggio. Originale und Kopien im Spiegel der Forschung, catalogo della mostra (Dusseldorf 2006-2007), Ostfildern 2006, p. 227; 
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  • S. Schütze, Caravaggio. The complete work, London 2009, p. 271;
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  • A. Coliva, scheda in da Guercino a Caravaggio, catalogo della mostra (Roma 2014-2015), a cura di A. Coliva, M. Gregori, S. Androsov, Urbino 2014, pp. 88-89;
  • A. Ramon, Sant Jerome penitent de Caravaggio, Barcelona 2014;
  • A. Coliva, Caravaggio. San Girolamo scrivente: iconografia di un santo, Busto Arsizio 2016;
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  • L. Scanu, in Caravage à Rome. Amis et ennemis, catalogo della mostra (Parigi, Musée Jacquemart-André, 2018-2019), a cura di F. Cappelletti, M.C. Terzaghi, P. Curie, Bruxelles 2018, p. 142;
  • L. Scanu, La storia per le immagini. Caravaggio e la critica europea del Novecento, percorsi per un’iconografia storica, Padova 2018, p. 57;
  • A. Casati, Caravaggio tra naturalismo e realismo. Un percorso nella critica attraverso le mostre 1922-1951, Milano 2020.