|St. Paul the Hermit, 1640, oil on canvas, 143 x 143 cm|
Paul of Thebes, the first Christian hermit, lived in a cave in the Egyptian desert for much of his life, almost 100 years. Here he is old, weary from a life lived in seclusion and frugality.
He seems in conversation with a skull. He gestures towards himself - hand touching hand touching chest - contemplating mortality with a complex ardour.
Muscles sagging and a deep furrowed brow, his bones tight against his skin, the saint has been painted with startling realism, using a chiaroscuro technique borrowed from Caravaggio, emphasising the hermits intensity, and hinting at the rich interior life the man surely lived.
The Art Book, Phaidon, 1994.