The National Gallery in London has two of my favourite paintings, both depicting the same scene: St Jerome in his study, rendering the Bible into Latin. The painting by Vincenzo Catena [c. 1480–1531] is probably my favourite of the two, depicted in figure 1, the other by Antonello da Messina [c. 1430 – 1479] as depicted in figure 2
I’m not religious in the traditional sense but find many parallels between science and religion, not least the hooks that can really focus the mind and influence our emotions. On that, the aspect that appeals to me most in both of these paintings is the purposeful solitude Jerome finds himself in. Determined with a task, he ploughs on. Ok, there is the lion as a distraction, but still, we get the gist. I guess these days there would be the warm fuzzy glow of the smartphone or the humming coffee machine, but I suspect Jerome would still be focused at the task in hand. Would you?
Depending on what mood I’m in when looking at either print, I wonder whether he was stuck in a rut or deep in clear thought. Jerome is translating Bible into Latin. A task that would require slow careful thought, and adequate breaks! Pick from any number of portraits depicting our scientific idols locked in thought. It needn’t be Jerome or any specific discipline. Personally, however, I admire watching Jerome. For all intense purposes he could quite easily be ‘alive’ in the frame and simply not moving.
The act of studying, working or researching does have an artistic quality. Still life perhaps, but the process at work in the mind of the subject is the important feature.
Adding to all of this is choice of surroundings. Where is your favourite place to work? Does it vary according to the task to be carried out? I’ve started doing that, as covered in a previous post. I’d love to hear opinions on other works that similarly depict the art of study.