Not all subjects are easy to identify. The Cleveland Museum of Art long thought that the subject was the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, largely because tears are part of the standard representation of this ancient thinker. However, ter Brugghen omits the other crucial key to identifying Heraclitus — a globe over which he weeps. Instead, the book and skull indicate that the figure is Saint Jerome, known for translating the Bible into Latin. The artist probably chose to show Jerome crying to intensify his penitence.
Credit Line: Text courtesy of The Cleveland Museum of Art.