This hitherto unknown painting entered the Städel Collection in the end of 2017 as a generous gift from its former private owner. It shows a half-length figure of a seated saint with his hands folded in prayer and leaning on a stack of books. Having turned suddenly to his right, the white-haired old man is shown gazing up into the sky, as if an angel or the Lord himself had appeared to him there. The beam of bright light shining down from the same direction makes the saint glow against the surrounding darkness. His naked body, clothed only in a cloak wound round his loins and over his left arm, is powerfully built, even if marked by age and privation. Clearly this is one of the hermit saints who spent his life praying and doing penance in the wilderness. Saint Paul the Hermit, perhaps also Saint Jerome or Saint Bartholomew are all possible candidates, although unambiguous attributes are lacking.
Stylistically, the painting can in all probability be attributed to the Roman Baroque painter Giacinto Brandi, who in the second half of the 17th century furnished the interiors of a number of major churches with both frescos and altarpieces. For a while he was head of the Accademia di San Luca, the painters’ academy in Rome. As a late example of the chiaroscuro technique initiated by Caravaggio and Ribera, the work marks a fitting addition to the Städel’s holdings of Baroque painting from Rome and Naples.