At the moment, as I prepare for two comprehensive oral exams tomorrow on some 850 canons of Code of Canon Law, my desk looks much the same as this friar's (though without the skull).
At first glance I find the painting humorous, because it seems the friar is frustrated in his studies and has developed a great headache. With a second glance, it seems he might just be sleeping at his desk, bored by his studies. But after a third glance, he might even be deep in prayer, inspired by the contents of the books before him (or the skull; contemplating death - from which none of us can escape - is never a bad start for prayer). All three of these possibilities seem present in this painting.
For me, though, I'm mostly just bored and frustrated with my present studies. With the oral exams, the professors can ask about anything we have studied in both the first and second semesters, and we have no way to guess either which professors we will have for the exams or what sorts of questions they might ask. I simply have no idea how one can adequately prepare for such an exam.
In times such as this, I like to turn to Saint Thomas Aquinas to seek his intercession with a Prayer Before Study he wrote:
Ineffable Creator, Who, from the treasures of Your wisdom, has established three hierarchies of angels, has arrayed them in marvelous order above the fiery heavens, and has marshalled the regions of the universe with such artful skill, You are proclaimed the true font of light and wisdom, and the primal origin raised high beyond all things.
Pour forth a ray of Your brightness into the darkened places of my mind; disperse from my soul the twofold darkness into which I was born: sin and ignorance. You make eloquent the tongues of infants. Refine my speech and pour forth upon my lips the goodness of Your blessing. Grant to me keenness of mind, capacity to remember, skill in learning, subtlety to interpret, and eloquence in speech. May You guide the beginning of my work, direct its progress, and bring it to completion.
You Who are true God and true Man, Who live and reign, world without end. Amen.