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Handing over the Keys of the Kingdom

Pietro Perugino (ca. 1448-1523). Cappella Sistina – The Vatican. 1481-1482.

Saint Peter and Malchus

Painter from Burgundy, first half of the 16th century. Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon. Dijon.

The Denial of Saint Peter

The Master of Solomon’s Judgement (documented in Rome ca. 1615-1630). Galleria Corsini. Rome.

Saint Peter freed by the Angel

Johann Heinrich Schönfeld (1609-1683). Galleria Corsini. Rome.

Christ appears to Peter on the Via Appia

Annibale Carracci (1560-1609). The National Gallery – London. 1601-1602.

Saint Peter and the Centurion Cornelius

Bernardo Cavallino (ca. 1616-1656). National Gallery of Art in the Palazzo Barberini. Rome. 1645-1650.

The Crucifixion of Saint Peter

Michelangelo Merisi called Il Caravaggio (1570-1610). Santa Maria del Popolo – Rome. 1601.

The Crucifixion of Saint Peter

Jacopo Negreti called Palma Il Giovane (1548-1628). Galleria dell’Accademia. Venice. Ca. 1614.

Saint Peter heals Saint Agatha in her Prison

Alessandro Turchi called il Orbetto and Alessandro Veronese (1578 - 1649). Musée des Beaux-Arts, Palais Rohan. Strasbourg. Ca. 1630.

The Apostle Peter

Jesus arrived in Caesarea Philippi and there he asked his disciples who the Son of Man was. They answered that some thought that this was John the Baptist, others the prophet Jeremiah or one of the other prophets. Then Jesus asked who they thought he was. Simon Peter now spoke out and said that Jesus was the Christ, the son of the living God. Jesus then called Peter a blessed man because no human could have revealed to him this. So Jesus said that Simon was Peter, the rock. On this rock Jesus would build his community and the underworld would have no power over it. Jesus also said he would give to Peter the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever Peter bound on earth would be bound in heaven and whatever he loosened on earth would be unloosened in heaven. But Jesus then forbade the Apostles to tell to anyone that he was the Christ.

Handing over the Keys of the Kingdom

Pietro Perugino was born near Perugia, as his name indicates, in the middle of the fifteenth century. He was the son of a poor man called Cristofano. His full name was thus Pietro di Cristofano Vannucci and he was born in the village of Città del Pieve in Umbria. Giorgio Vasari wrote that Pietro was born among ‘misery and want’ but he inspired to greatness. He came to Florence and studied like many other painters of his generation under Andrea Verrocchio. He had quickly much success with his own paintings, for he had a fine talent and original views which appealed to the Florentines. He made frescoes but also some of the first oil paintings of Florence. His fame spread so much throughout Italy that in 1481 Pope Sixtus IV invited him to work in his chapel near the old Saint Peter’s basilica. Perugino painted several scenes in this chapel, such as the ‘Handing over the Keys’. He made a ‘Nativity and Baptism of Jesus’s, the ‘Birth of Moses’, an ‘Assumption of the virgin’ and a portrait of Pope Sixtus. These two last pictures were destroyed when Michelangelo prepared the wall for his Last Judgement. Perugino painted for other churches in Rome, which according to Vasari brought him large sums of money. From Rome he returned to Perugia. He painted many pictures in his home town but returned in 1486 to Florence. At the end of the fifteenth century, the Servite Friars of Florence wanted to have a painting for their main altar. They had first assigned this work to Filippino Lippi, but Filippino died young. Then they gave the rest of the commission to Pietro Perugino. When he had finished however, his work was very much criticised because Pietro had lost his originality of representation and had merely repeated the figures he had painted before. Whether this was true can be doubted, but Pietro had indeed a vision that he preferred, a strong vision of an ideal universe, and that view he repeated. He may have been accused of not varying his themes. He was attacked so vehemently that he left Florence in 1499 once more, in his old age, and moved back, definitely this time, to his sweet Perugia, where he was still admired and where he continued to work until his death in 1523. Here his pupil was Raffaello Sanzio of Urbino.

Giorgio Vasari wrote that Pietro Perugino was not a religious man and that he refused to believe in the immortality of the soul. Vasari tells that Perugino had many students among whom of course Raphael, but also Pinturicchio, Rocco Zoppo, Filippo Salviati, Francesco Bachiacca, Giovanni Lo Spagna and Andrea Luigi called l’Ingegno, who lost his sight at a young age. Perugino was a most famous and loved master of Tuscany and Umbria, of Italy’s resplendent Renaissance.

Pietro Perugino not only painted the scene of the handing over by Jesus of the keys to the kingdom of Heaven. Two other smaller scenes are in the background of Perugino’s picture.

On the right is a scene told by John. Jesus is this scene also claims to be the Son of God. He said he did not seek his own glory, but the glory of his father in heaven. He said he knew God and he kept his word. He told that Abraham would rejoice seeing Jesus’s day. The Jews screamed that Jesus was not yet fifty, so how could he have known Abraham. But Jesus answered with the terrible words, ‘Before Abraham was, I am.’ Then the Jews picked up stones to throw them at Jesus, but he hid and left and went to the Temple.

In the left background Perugino painted a scene of the Pharisees putting Jesus to the test. The Pharisees asked whether it was allowed to pay taxes to the Roman Emperor or not. Jesus called the men hypocrites and asked rhetorically why they wanted to put him to the test. When he asked to show him the coins with which they paid the taxes, the Pharisees showed him a denarius. Jesus pointed at the title of the piece, which was Caesar’s, and said to pay Caesar what belonged to Caesar and to God what belonged to God.

So in the right background of his fresco Perugino drew a picture of Jesus declaring himself to be the Son of God and on the left a scene where Jesus denies worldly aspirations. These themes flank the ‘Handing over of the Keys of the Kingdom’ to Peter.

Pietro Perugino used three horizontal bands of composition: one lower band with the main scene and a procession of figures, a second band somewhat higher up with the two lesser scenes from the New Testament, and a third band of Roman monuments set against the sky. In this upper band Perugino painted a central building that should represent the Temple of Jerusalem, but the master painted an octagonal or hexagonal Temple, not unlike many Italian Renaissance buildings or even like the Florence Baptisterium. Perugino however drew a light structure, high and towering, which was however not choking the picture or too heavy in his composition since it had two open arches on either side. He also placed two monumental Roman arches, to the example of the arches of Constantine in Rome. Since these also are open and allow viewers to look onto the sky, with a rather low horizon, these structures also do not seem heavy and allow much impression of elevation of the mind, fine dedication to spirituality, and to vastness of God’s space for any viewer. This vision was the particular, original mark of Perugino and he used it in several of his pictures. The arches bear inscriptions that praise Pope Sixtus for following on Solomon in building the Sistine Chapel (which had the same dimensions as Solomon’s Temple of Jerusalem), and even announcing the Pope to be superior in religious piety to Solomon. The arches are decorated with festive, golden threads and these answer the golden dome of the Temple.

The two arches of Constantine are of course placed symmetrically to the central Temple. So are the two minor scenes in the middle band, and everywhere in the painting one can discover symmetries in areas of colours. These symmetries have a remarkable effect. Although Perugino placed very many figures in his painting, the viewer has no impression of nervousness or lack of order. The viewer perceives each scene easily and can separate each scene easily, discover them one by one without each such visual element to confuse and encroach on the other. Perugino’s view looks as if it is fixed in eternity. A great sense of orderliness, rest, peace, solemn grace radiates from the picture. That was Perugino’s great finding in composition and this view epitomises the Florentine Renaissance. Man in Perugino’s paintings is more than human, part of an immutable and divine grace.

Perugino painted each figure in clear hues, which are light, rather contrasting and hence easily recognisable. The areas of colour do not diffuse the one into the other. All areas are well delineated with the unwavering lines of a master draughtsman of Florence. The picture is a renaissance one; it marvellously represents man in dignity and solemn representation. Hence, Perugino used many vertical directions in his figures and his architectures, so that the vertical lines are preponderant, which also always gives to the viewer an impression of rest, rigidity, immutability, and aspiration to spirituality.

In the central scene we see Peter and Jesus. The face of Jesus is all tenderness and the robe he wears is purple, which contains the red of love but is also the imperial colour of worldly power. Peter has a face of wisdom. He has a white beard and spare white hair. Perugino gave Peter also a face of force and determination. The scene around Jesus and Peter is lively. Two Apostles are chatting; one Apostle turns his back to the viewer. Remark how Perugino then also placed an Apostle on the other, right side, with his back to the viewer. On the left of the frame are six Apostles. We do not know who the other personages are. But on the right are Peter and five more Apostles. Among these may be Sandro Botticelli. The youth resembles somewhat this great master. After the Apostles comes Perugino himself, accompanied by Pinturicchio. And these are followed by the two architects of the Sistine Chapel, Baccio Pontelli and Giovanni de’ Dolci. They wear their architects’ instruments. They also are engaged in talk, in a lively scene. The faces of the Apostles are all different of course, but we find as well aged men for instance like behind Jesus, as very young men just behind Peter. Perugino thus emphasised Jesus’s youth in contrast, and Peter’s age.

Peter receives the large keys to the Kingdom from Jesus. Perugino painted here much in light blue colours. Around the blue areas he used light green but in this green he applied yellow to show the volumes of the bodies so that the green does not contrast too much with the blue. Yellow is the complementary colour to blue and also in other places Perugino used this golden yellow to yellow-orange hue that matches many other colours well. Red and other hues are practically absent, so absent that the viewer obtains a very harmonious impression of the hues, but also a cold impression. The warmer hues are in deficit in Perugino’s fresco, but this adds to the cool mood of distant dignity of the picture. Instead of pure red, Perugino used orange or brown hues.

Perugino created a strong sense of open space and he used various techniques for that. He had three bands of figures and each time diminished the height of his personages. Thus, three people are standing in the massive doors of the Temple and these figures are painted much smaller than the Apostles and Jesus in the foreground. The Temple and the arches are smaller also than the front figures, but Perugino showed their dimension by placing the three figures in the doors of the Temple so that the viewer has an easy grasp of the truly huge height of the construction. Th most important effect of space however comes from the lines of the marble slabs that cover the floor before the Temple and arches. The golden lines flee to a vanishing point inside the Temple and also the horizontal lines are drawn more closely together as they near the Temple. This ladder pattern creates a very strong sense of perspective in the viewer. Finally, Perugino painted a fine landscape of green hills on the right and of blue mountains on the left. Look at these mountains: Perugino painted them gradually less pronounced blue, to lighter and more grey tones, in line with the hues of the horizon. The effect of hills and mountains becoming of bluer colours in the distance was noted and known by the Renaissance painters. Perugino also applied aerial perspective in the sky; the sky becomes darker towards the top. Perugino placed very many figures, scenes and architectures in his picture but he obtained a unity and clarity of depiction that is remarkable. He leaves few empty spaces, little visually negative space around his subjects, but reaches strong perspective by powerful visual means so that his painting is extremely light and open.

‘Jesus handing over the Keys to Saint Peter’ is of course a venerable picture. It is probably among the hundred or so best well known paintings ever made. It had all the qualities of an original view when it was made and it is now a textbook example of renaissance composition. The picture brings us in a cool, solemn mood, as emotions are not expressed in it. But a major painting of the Sistine Chapel, made in the middle of the Renaissance and in the private chapel of the Popes, had to express grandeur and solemnity. This was the main picture of the chapel after all, the picture that justified the power and mission of the Roman Popes. We continue to look at this picture as an almost perfect masterpiece of balanced, clear composition, fine structure and strong perspective, perfect creation of space and volumes, wonderful detail in figures and architecture and harmonious colours.

Saint Peter and Malchus

Matthew, Mark and Luke tell in their Gospels that when Jesus was arrested his followers wondered whether to draw their swords. One of them drew his sword indeed and struck off the ear of a servant of the high priest. Jesus however told the men to put back their swords for, as he expressed, who would draw the sword would perish by the sword. Luke wrote that Jesus also healed the man whose ear had been wounded by touching him. John also tells this story, but he wrote that the man who had struck the servant was Peter and that the servant’s name was Malchus.

The painting ‘Saint Peter and Malchus’ from the Museum of Fine Arts of Dijon was made by an anonymous painter, either an unknown Flemish master or a painter native from Burgundy. In the beginning of the sixteenth century Flanders had still strong ties with burgundy. German influences also show in the picture.

The picture consists of two scenes. To the left, Jesus is praying and suffering the fears of his coming Passion. This is a scene from the Garden of Ghetsemane. While the Apostles are asleep, also Peter, Jesus receives a vision of his crucifixion. An angel appears to him, carrying the cross. In the right part of the painting, Jesus is arrested and led away by the men of the high priest. Jesus is already bound with ropes. Judas has just kissed Christ and thus betrayed him to the guards. He tries to escape like a thief in the night. Further down, Peter has thrown down Malchus and with a mighty blow prepares to cut off the ear of the unfortunate servant. The scene is very lively; the emphasis in on the narrative, on the stories of Jesus’s Passion so that the first aim of this panel must have been to teach in vivid representation the arrest of Jesus. The painting may have been a panel made locally to instruct the devotees of a church, but it has qualities that go beyond a beginner’s picture.

The anonymous master used marvellous colours of great intensity. He used vivid hues and even golden colours, even though the scene is situated at night. He applied deep blue in the soldier on the right and on Peter, dark green-blue in the sky. In the middle, another soldier wears a green tunic and that colour contrasts nicely with the red-orange, flowing cloak of Peter. The colour of treachery is yellow and that colour was in the Middle Ages and also in the sixteenth century of France and Flanders also the colour of Judas. The anonymous master obtained a nice effect with his use of this golden hue. We find yellow-golden areas in the lower left, in the robe of Malchus who was also a traitor in the story since he helped to arrest Jesus. Malchus had to be emphasised as one of the main characters of the story and thus the master painted him in a striking colour, and in the same hue as the traitor Judas. The next golden area is in this Judas, and then we find also gold in the flag to the extreme right. The viewer’s eye naturally follows this bright direction of gold, from Malchus upwards, over Jesus’s arrest, to the flag and the dim lantern above. This is the direction of treason, of mischief and of the tragedy. This movement indicates the main direction of the painting and leads the attention of the viewer from Peter to Jesus and then upwards, to the heavens. The golden flag also means here that Jesus is being imprisoned in the name of treachery and wrong-doing.

The anonymous Burgundian master not only used strong, vivid, even acid colours thus judiciously to sustain his visual composition. He also applied fine structure. He situated the scene of the arrest in the rightmost triangle, under the left diagonal of the frame and separated the two scenes – of Jesus’s suffering in the Garden of olives and of his arrest – by a mass of rocks and trees. This landscape remained sparing, as it should be since it only serves as a background and separation, but it is positioned nicely and also holds some of the golden glows among its green-grey hues. The painter used the diagonals of the frame in his structure. The scene of Peter and Jesus is in the lower diagonal. Above that diagonal, the artist separated the upper triangle in two and placed the scene of the praying Jesus in the left part. That part is caught between the left border of the frame and the right diagonal. In the last part of the upper scene, he painted the dark night and a far view. Thereby his visual representation of the scenes was complete. The master balanced marvellously and logically this panel thus in three parts. And in the lower triangle he also separated the scenes in two: one part holding the arrest of Jesus, the other Peter slaying Malchus. This painter had thus e keen eye for balance and we remark this concern also in the fact hat Peter, wearing a blue robe and inclined to the left, is finely balanced as a counterweight by the soldier on the right, also in blue, and inkling to the right. Various other such diligent symmetries, lines and structures can be found back in the painting, such as for instance the placement by the master of Judas just at the cross section of the diagonals. His picture is really a picture of treachery.

The procession of the soldiers, the intersecting lines of the lances and peaks of the soldiers, the expression of agony on Malchus’ face, the way the soldiers are armed and shown in full armour, indicate German influences. It seems indeed that the two scenes were derived from two sketches made by the great master of Nuremberg, Hans Dürer F39 . And also in the flowing cloak of Peter we find a view typical of Nuremberg painters.

The painter of ‘Saint Peter and Malchus’ has remained anonymous but he was no simple, local, uneducated master. Even if he borrowed some of his structure from Dürer, he put the various scenes nicely together. He must have studied in good workshops of Flemish, Burgundian or German masters. He may well have studied in Nuremberg. He mastered completely the arts of composition, structure, use of splendid hues, and all that to support the narrative and the striking visual effects of his picture. He was also a marvellously skilled draughtsman, since all details of the faces and dresses are wonderfully painted. He made a humble jewel of Burgundy, a true delight for the viewer and a respectful honour to the New Testament.

The Denial of Saint Peter

The ‘Master of the Judgement of Solomon’ was an otherwise unknown painter active in Rome from around 1620 to 1630. Some of his paintings were attributed to Giovanni Lanfranco, Guercino, Orazio Gentileschi, Guy François, Valentin de Boulogne, Gérard Douffet and a score of others, until they were recognised as being from another and the same unknown master. This painter must have known very well Caravaggio’s pictures. Yet he differed much in representation form that master. For instance, he liked putting more figures in his scenes than Caravaggio. The name ‘Master of the Judgement of Solomon’ was given by Roberto Longhi after one of similar works now in the Galleria Borghese in Rome. The unknown master made powerful paintings nevertheless and his pictures would have honoured his true name.

In the ‘Denial of Saint Peter’ we see on the far right Peter being accused of having accompanied Jesus. A woman points at Peter and at least one other man takes up on the accusation. The scene is set at in a guards’ room. Soldiers are playing at dice.

Luke tells in his evangelium that before Jesus’s Passion, Jesus told Peter that he had prayed for him so that his faith would not fail. Peter replied that he would go to prison and to death for Jesus. Whereupon Jesus had dryly retorted that by the time the cock would crow that day, Peter would have denied him three times. When later in the day Jesus was arrested and led away to the house of the high priest, peter followed Jesus from a distance. There were people in the courtyard, sitting around a fire and Peter joined them. When he sat near the fire, a maidservant suddenly cried out that Peter too had been with Jesus. But Peter denied that. Somewhat later another man said the same but Peter denied again. An hour later, another man insisted that he had seen Peter with Jesus. But Peter told the man he did not know what he was talking about. At that moment the cock crowed and Jesus turned and looked straight at Peter. Peter remembered then what Jesus had said. He went outside and wept.

The Master of Solomon’s Judgement painted the denial of Saint Peter entirely in the new way that Caravaggio had brought to Rome. He showed light falling dramatically on the figures so that their faces, and almost only their faces, are lit up. He showed a lively scene of figures drawn in a very realistic way, for which he may have used models as he might have found in the streets of Rome. He painted the background black and undecorated. We see Saint Peter on the far right of the frame and not in a central position even though he is the major personage of the picture, so that this master did not shy away from unconventional composition. And yet, like Caravaggio this master knew well the strength of structure in a picture. The master was also a fine colourist.

Saint Peter holds his hand to his chest as if to say, ‘Me? No, you are mistaken; I am not the man that was there! I know of nothing. Leave me alone.’ Peter is an old man and the Master showed him as a wizened and toughened person with a much wrinkled forehead, a grey beard the colour of steel and a dark grey robe that blends with the background. The Master however painted Peter’s face exquisitely in the scarce light, as well as the chiaroscuro on Peter’s robe.

Looking to the left of Peter we see the maidservant accusing Peter with a pointed finger and even a man also suddenly saying, ‘Yes, I remember seeing him too.’ The Master depicted this scene with great realism and splendidly in the immediacy of the act of recognition and accusation. Further to the left we see an officer at a table. He wears a cuirass and again we remark the skill of the anonymous Master in showing the play of light on the steel armour. Three other persons, probably soldiers, look intently at the game of dice. So there are two scenes: one with Peter on the right but with the accusing maidservant as the central figure, and one on the left with the soldiers. The officer is a central figure between these two scenes.

The armoured officer of course represents the full danger, the menace to peter. As long as the officer does not move or address Peter, Peter is safe. The whole attention of the scene must therefore be focused on the officer, even though he sits leisurely and seemingly oblivious of Peter. The Master Painter placed the potential danger right in the middle of the picture, to be noticed thus by the attentive viewer. And yet he placed the man in a very natural, relaxed, casual way there, playing a game.

The Master also linked the right and left scenes. There is a dice player at the extreme left with a red shirt. The man pointing to Peter also has a right sleeve, but somewhat going on brown hues, and the arm points at Peter so goes to this figure. Peter wears a brown cloak. The transition from red to red-brown to brown forms the link between the scenes. So the Master diligently used colours to draw the viewer’s attention in a certain direction, to Peter. Remark also how the scene on the left well balances the scene on the right. In each scene there are three persons, on either side of the soldier in armour. One might also discover structure in the two diagonals used in the direction of the faces that are lightened up.

The force of the painting is found in the faces of the figures. All faces are very realistic, finely painted with great skill. It is marvellous to see the expression of faked incredulity on Peter’s face, the naivety and suddenness yet also the mischievous accusation in the maidservant’s face and the light on the bald, much wrinkled, old, powerful face of the squat man that points to Peter. The soldier at the table is the weary warrior who has seen many battles and who fears nothing anymore. This man rather ignores Peter and the woman, unhurried. He will be ready to enter into the act when something really serious happens; Peter is no danger for the moment. At the table, opposite the soldier, a man is looking at the dice intently. He may have waged much money on the game and he seems to be calculating what to do next, supporting his head with his arm. The other two are rather young men and the one that has a hand on the table may be trying to hide something there. He looks as if he were the smart one. But the officer will not be caught. He does not look at the man but fixes his gaze on the dice. As long as these do not change position, the game will be fair. The exchange of looks and of gestures will bring the eyes of the viewer from centre point to left, to right, and back again, and thus give the impression of liveliness, and of the rapidity of the story that the painter needed to convey.

The Master of Solomon’s Judgement as a great follower of Caravaggios’ ways of painting, but he was not a slave of that fashion. He had a vision of his own, own power of depiction, a keen eye and hand for representing his scenes in movement. He knew very well how to paint and could bring an original view in his pictures. It is a real pity we have not yet discovered his name. He showed the scene of Peter’s denial in a masterly way, so at least he earned fully the title of ‘Master’ by which he is known today.

Saint Peter freed by the Angel

Johann Heinrich Schönfeld was a German painter, born in Biberach-an-der-Riss in 1609. In his youth, from around 1635, he spent many years in Italy, mainly in Rome and Naples. In 1652 he settled in Augsburg and from there painted many religious pictures for churches of Bavaria and the rest of southern Germany. Little is known of his life. He was a Baroque painter, but his style announced German Rococo art.

Schönfeld’s picture ‘Saint Peter freed by the Angel’ might have been painted in Tome or in Naples. It shows Peter in prison, being awakened by an angel and taken out of prison, into the light. Peter’s deliverance is narrated in the ‘Acts of the Apostles’. King Herod persecuted the Apostles of Christ. He beheaded James the Great and arrested Peter. Herod wanted to wait with Peter’s execution until after the feast of Passover. The church of Peter meanwhile prayed for him. Peter had to sleep between two soldiers and he was fastened with two chains. But while the guards slept, an angel of God appeared and Peter’s cell was flooded with light. The chains fell away from Peter. The angel told Peter to put on his belt, his sandals, and to wrap his cloak around him. The angel passed with Peter two sections of guards; they passed through the iron gates of the prison, into the city, and there walking in the streets the angel suddenly disappeared. Peter was in a dream and still thought he had received a vision of freedom, but then he saw that he was really free and out of the prison, walking in the city. He went to the house of Mary, mother of John Mark, where many people had gathered. All the people were amazed to see Peter and he told them how he had been liberated. Then Peter continued his way. Herod looked for Peter without success. He questioned the soldiers, left for his residence in Caesarea and gave orders to have the guards executed.

Schönfeld showed the two soldiers in Peter’s cell. One is lying heavily on his back on the ground of the prison, the other sits asleep against a wall, behind the angel. There is another prisoner in the cell, but that might well be Peter himself, in chains, before the angel told him to stand up and dress. Schönfeld may have wanted to illustrate part of the narrative of the Acts, which states that Peter came out of the cell as if in a trance or dream. So we see Peter dressed, standing up as if getting out of the almost nude, enchained prisoner. We see this prisoner only in the back, so that Schönfeld left uncertainty on whether this could be Peter too.

The story told furthermore that the cell was flooded with light. Schönfeld let the light fall through the open door of the prison, promising freedom to Peter. Schönfeld painted this light nicely so that it falls on the angel, on Peter, on the back of the prisoner and on the well behind. He treated the way the light falls in the cell quite expertly. And he showed vigorous colours but with great care. He used enough grey and brown colours to give an overall mood of desolation to the viewer. He even showed the walls with dark tones here and there to give an impression of dirt. But he painted two marvellous patches of red colour and of blue and these bring splendour to the picture. The angel wears a light, vermillion robe and Peter has put on his deep blue cloak. The blue is dark but of a strong enough hue to dominate the picture with the red of the angel. And then Schönfeld used splendid lead-whites on the angel’s shirt, on Peter’s white hair and beard and on the prisoner’s emaciated but muscular back, some even on the guard’s armour. Schönfeld knew how only a few patches of strongly contrasting colours in judicious position might give an impression of rich colours in the entire picture. He did not have to bring such hues everywhere.

We noted already Schönfeld’s mastership in depicting nude bodies in the prisoner in the front. This effect also adds to the fine tones of great professionalism. Schönfeld painted with rough strokes, which, if they were not in such pronounced, intense hues, could announce the Rococo style of for instance Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. But he modulated his brushstrokes and in places where he thought detail was necessary, such as in Saint Peter, he also knew to use lighter, closer and finer brushwork. Finally, he did not shy away fro ma few non-conspicuous details that show he read the story of the Acts of the Apostles well. Thus there is no window to the cell but a high, dark oval, which lets the viewer understand that it is night outside. So the light coming into the prison must indeed be miraculous, like told in the story. And Peter was fastened to the walls in two chains; these chains now hang along the wall behind him, unopened, so that peter could not but miraculously have escaped from them. Schönfeld also painted Peter and the angel as elongated figures, which usually evoke in viewers feelings of respect. They show the angel and Peter as figures of power and of intellect.

‘Saint Peter freed by the Angel’ of Johann Heinrich Schönfeld is an accomplished picture of delicate colours, nicely following the story of the Acts of the Apostles. Schönfeld must have been a sensitive artist with a fine feeling of colour. He also brought good structure in his picture, since the main scene forms a pyramid. The angel’s head is at the top of the pyramid. The left side goes over the guard who is asleep against the wall to the guard who lies on the ground. The right side goes over Peter to the seated prisoner. Schönfeld’s use of dark and light is correct and dramatic. So Schönfeld made a picture that does not seem to be marvellously striking at first sight, but that has qualities that must be discovered. Once, when one has found out the subtle qualities of depiction of Schönfeld, one has to regard this picture as a fine masterpiece. It is a small jewel that the spectator discovers, of a painter who has been much under-rated.

Christ appears to Peter on the Via Appia

In the history of art one discovers that at certain moments and in particular places there appear geniuses with clear vision, more intelligence and energy of expression than generations before could generate. Such was the case for the town of Bologna in the late sixteenth century. Bologna was then still one of the major towns of the Papal States in middle Italy. Lodovico Carracci, Agostino Carracci and Annibale Carracci were three members of the same family who innovated and inspired the long tradition of artistic Bologna. Agostino and Annibale were brothers; Lodovico was their cousin. Together they founded in 1580 in Bologna an academy of painting called the ‘Accademia degli Incamminati’. Lodovico probably had the idea the first; Agostino was its theoretician. Lodovico was influenced by Italian Mannerism and by the great Venetian artists, Titian and Tintoretto. Agostino also had travelled to Venice and preferred the Venetian colours and light to Florentine Mannerism. Lodovico and Agostino remained mainly in Bologna and in particular Agostino favoured return to more rigorous pictures on classic themes. This return to a more austere, solemn style of painting was a reaction to the tension and disregard for artistic rules of harmony of Mannerism. The Carraccis preferred a calm, clear composition and well-delineated surfaces of colour.

Lodovico Carracci was born in 1555 and died in Bologna in 1619. Agostino Carracci was born equally in Bologna, in 1557, and died in Parma in 1602. Annibale, born in 1560, died in Rome in 1609. With the Carraccis the fame of the Venetian painting passed to Bologna for about twenty years.

Annibale Carracci, the youngest of the three, was the more gifted. His genius and talent were too strong for any tradition. As occurred with so many of the very great painters who worked immersed in a certain paradigm of arts, he could not but be influenced in his youth by the style of the moment. He nevertheless grew out of any style and developed his own way of representation and of colouring. He was also more rigorous in his concepts, like Agostino, but he observed nature with a fresh, uncomplicated eye and he found sweetness and gentleness there. Since he was the youngest he was the one to discover the world outside Bologna. He worked in other towns and mainly in Rome. Annibale’s major work was the decoration of the Palazzo Farnese in Rome, especially the ceiling of the Galleria of that palace. The palace is currently the French Embassy. For this the rich Cardinal Odoardo Farnese commissioned him. But Annibale had issues over money with the cardinal. Cardinal Farnese paid him badly or not at all. The already melancholic artist became desperate and depressed over the cardinal’s ingratitude so that although he had worked in the Palazzo Farnese since 1597, he stopped that work altogether in 1605. Annibale’s painting ‘Christ appears on the Via Appia’ dates from this period, while he was also working in the Palazzo Farnese.

Saint Peter was among the first apostles, chosen together with his brother Andrew. Peter was a fisherman and the most humble, deeply human figure in the Gospels. He combined courage and cowardice, perseverance and despair. Jesus told the disciples that Peter would lead the church and as is told in the Acts of the Apostles, Peter indeed took charge after Jesus’s death. There were probably more intelligent and learned men among the disciples, but when inaction paralysed the group Peter took charge with the courage instilled to him by Jesus. Peter started the real missionary work. Paul was the giant that shaped Christian religion, but without Peter the movement would have died out in Jerusalem.

Many scenes of Peter’s life, as narrated in the Gospels and as passed by generations in legends, have been painted. Annibale Carracci made a picture of one of those legends that happened in Rome. When Peter was preaching in that city the Emperor Nero persecuted the Christians. Peter fled from the town over the Via Appia. He encountered Jesus on that same road going in the opposite direction. Peter asked, “Domine, quo Vadis?” Where are you going? Jesus answered; “I’m going to Rome to be crucified again.” As had happened before, Jesus had rebuked Peter and shown him what really needed to be accomplished. Peter interpreted Jesus’s words as an order to return to Rome. Peter went back and was crucified on Nero’s command. He told the executioners that he was not worth of dying the same way as Christ; he asked to be crucified upside down. This scene of Peter’s martyrdom has been painted repeatedly.

In the picture of Annibale Carracci, Jesus is seen on the Via Appia wearing his cross. Peter is astonished and obviously in fear at the sight of Jesus. The question, “Quo Vadis” and the answer of Jesus pointing back to Rome are in the moment. Annibale Carracci made a sober picture, a style that we would now call Classicism, but this was just the way Annibale liked to paint; this was his way. The figures of Peter and Jesus are shown in full and they are very realistically detailed without elements of ornament. The action is vivid, yet credible and not mannered. The scene is natural. The landscape of the Roman Via Appia is held simple and true. Peter is the grey-bearded apostle; Jesus is half nude as in his Resurrection and as he was on the cross. Both figures are elegantly dressed; Peter wears a coloured toga and Christ a red cloak that curls in the wind next to his body.

The picture of Annibale Carracci is clean and uncomplicated, its message as directly conveyed as could be. Even though further painters of the generation after the Carraccis would be Baroque painters, the Carracci family inaugurated a way of depiction that impressed very much the French painters like Nicolas Poussin. The French artists favoured these presentations instead of the passionate scenes of Caravaggio and founded their own style in this manner. This style suited perfectly well the spiritual representations of Gospel scenes for intimate pictures as well as for the grand paintings that could decorate the French palaces and churches of the splendid courts of the kings Louis XIII, Louis XIV and Louis XV.

The paintings in the style of the Carraccis were one answer to the Italian Mannerism. Mannerism showed a profusion of contorted bodies, preferably entangled, painted in drastic foreshortening, ready to burst out of the frames in violence and in hard tension. The Carraccis’ calm art relaxed Mannerism. Classicism in the style of the Carraccis was a solution to Mannerism, a reaction to it and a logical evolution. Another logical evolution to Mannerism was Baroque. Baroque had all the qualities of an equally passionate art, but the passions were resolved and often a quietness and a lively sweetness, even sentimentality, hangs over Baroque’s pictures. This style was an antithesis to the tensions of Mannerism also.

And such was the case even with the scenes of Caravaggio.

Saint Peter and the Centurion Cornelius

The scene of ‘Saint Peter and the Centurion Cornelius’ is the representation of a story from the ‘Acts of the Apostles’ in the Bible and a rare theme in painting. Yet, the scene shows one of the most important moments of Christianity.

The Acts of the Apostles tell how, after Jesus’s Passion and Resurrection, Peter travelled to many places in Judaea, Galilee and Samaria to spread the word. Peter went also to the town of Lydda, preached and performed miracles there, then went on to Jaffa and stayed for some time in the house of a tanner called Simon.

Meanwhile, there lived in Caesarea a centurion called Cornelius. He was God-fearing and sympathetic to Jewish causes. One day, Cornelius saw an angel of God coming to him and calling out his name. The angel told that Cornelius that his gifts and prayers had been well accepted by God. Now Cornelius was to send men to Jaffa and fetch there the man called Peter, staying in the house of Simon, near the sea. Cornelius ordered two of his servants to go to Jaffa and bring Peter to him.

In Jaffa, in the morning, Peter went on the roof of Simon’s house to say his prayers. He was hungry and looking forward to his meal, but he fell in a trance. He had a vision then. He was how the heavens opened and a big container was let down to earth, to his roof. It contained all kinds of animals, birds and reptiles, animals that Peter was not allowed to eat by ancient Jewish custom. But a voice said to kill and eat. Peter refused to eat things so profane and unclean. Three times the voice answered that what God had cleaned, Peter should not call profane. Then the container was drawn up to the heavens again.

Cornelius’ men arrived right after this vision of Peter. The men called out, asking for Peter. The voice of heaven told Peter to look at the man and to go with them. The servants of Cornelius delivered the same message. Peter invited the servants to enter the house, and he lodged them. The next day he went with them to Caesarea.

Cornelius had been waiting for Peter. When Peter reached the centurion’s house, Cornelius went out to meet the Apostle. He fell at Peter’s feet and gave him respect, in front of many of his relations and friends that he had also asked to come. But Peter said, ‘Stand up, I am only a man.’ Peter then said that he knew it was forbidden for Jews to mix with other people. But he told everybody that God had made it very clear to him that he should not call anyone profane or unclean.

Cornelius now told Peter how the angel had ordered him to fetch the Apostle to his house and he asked for Peter to give his advice. Peter repeated he had understood that God would accept anybody, of any nationality and language, who feared God. Peter then explained to the people all that had happened to Jesus. He told them about Jesus’s death and gave witness of his resurrection.

While Peter was thus speaking, the Holy Spirit came down on all who listened. The Jews were really astonished to see how the Holy Spirit came upon the gentiles. These suddenly spoke all foreign languages, and proclaimed the greatness of God. Peter said that now, as all had seen how these gentiles had received the Holy Spirit; they would not be withheld from Baptism. So Peter ordered the gentiles to be baptised with water like the Jews, in the name of Jesus Christ. Cornelius and his friends asked Peter to stay for a while with them.

Bernardo Cavallino was a Neapolitan painter of the seventeenth century. He studied with Massimo Stanzione but little more is known of him and the artists with whom he worked afterwards. He probably died from the plague in Naples in 1656, merely forty years old. He made smaller paintings from scenes of the Old and New Testament and of Roman antiquity. His picture ‘Saint Peter and Cornelius’ was made in his easily recognisable style. He was fully a Baroque painter and his work announces in many aspects the Rococo movement.

Cavallino’s painting looks like a rough sketch until we discover the details of the colours he used, and truly see the elegance of his figures.

We see the centurion knelt before Peter. Peter urges the man to stand up, and he blesses the centurion. The centurion is accompanied by his friends, his household, and his neighbours and these form a dense crowd behind him. On the right Cavallino painted an elegantly dressed young nobleman in blue clothes. This seems to be an auto-portrait of the artist. Cavallino drew himself thus often in his pictures.

Cavallino applied predominantly cool hues in his picture: soft blue, much grey, diluted yellows and green. When we study these closely we see great richness in variation of hues. Cavallino let light play luxuriously on all the cloaks and costumes. He used slightly brighter hues on the left and right of the centurion but placed the man in the shadows, to show his humbleness in front of Peter. He painted the centurion in subdues brown colours so that the man, who kneels before Peter and shows him his respect, is almost hidden in the crowd. On the left side of the picture Cavallino showed further full shadows and here he used almost monochrome very dark, even black colour. The further his figures are from the central scene, the less clear and pronounced did Cavallino paint them, thus using a form of aerial perspective, which created a good sense of space although there is no landscape in the background to show the width of the land.

Cavallino’s style is well apparent in this picture, though the painter was at this moment still studying with Stanzione in Naples. Cavallino painted in soft tones but with a rich and varied palette. He showed his personages with mannered grace and liveliness. His picture is charming, delicate, sophisticated in representation. Cavallino knew the necessity for some composition since he placed the centurion centrally and symmetrically of him we find Saint Peter on one side and on the other side the young man in blue clothes. Further off, towards the extremes of the frame, there are groups of people. All these figures are painted in different poises, looking, talking, and pushing forward. There is a soft melancholy in this picture, as of and old tradition ended in rapid grace. Naples must have been like this in the middle of the seventeenth century: wealthy and graceful, a city of old families and a city also of great poverty, a city that lived rapidly so that all things had to be made and delivered in a quick way, also paintings. Life was short and rapid under the Vesuvius. Yet, Cavallino’s painting had to be delightful, tender, and somewhat mysterious. Cavallino balanced the poverty of Peter, whom he painted almost clad in rags, with the haughty elegance of the wealthy youth – the artist himself. Naples thus was a city of contrasts. Cavallino witnesses a major scene from the New Testament; hence he contrasted also himself in brighter hues set off against the smoother, more subdued hues of the old theme.

The scene that Cavallino chose to depict, the meeting between Saint Peter and the centurion Cornelius, is rare in painting. Yet it is one of the most important stories of Christianity. By this scene from the Acts of the Apostles, Christianity was opened to the whole of humanity and stayed not a sect of Judaism. In this scene, the miracle of Pentecost is repeated, a major moment of Christianity since non-Jews and also people that were not disciples of Jesus receive the Holy Spirit. The Apostles had continued to live in the habits of the Jews. By the vision of Peter, wherein God urged him to eat all food and also food that was forbidden to the Jews, God installed a Christianity that was for all men of whatever race and beliefs. Bernardo Cavallino captured this most important feature of Christianity, its universality, in a picture of relaxed loveliness. Neapolitans might cherish the moment and live at the surface of things, but they were not people without depth of feeling and they understood maybe more than many other what was essential in the Bible.

The Crucifixion of Saint Peter

Caravaggio was one of the painters that made the Baroque style. But Caravaggio was no theoretician like the Carraccis. He painted as he felt with all the maturity of a man who was almost detached from the world because of his loneliness, even because of his living as an outcast, but who lived profoundly with images of the reality of his times.

Caravaggio’s Crucifixion of Saint Peter is very different from Annibale Carracci’s picture. Saint peter is painted in dramatic foreshortening. But like the Peter of Carracci, this Peter is strangely not in stress and tension. Peter is an old man and he is already nailed to the cross, but he seems more to be worried over the whole act of raising the cross and he seems to wonder whether the structure and the nails will hold. He does not seem in pain, or to be a tortured man like the suffering Christ.

Just how much a genius Caravaggio was can be seen in the total skill with which he painted Peter and the workers who are dressing the cross. Caravaggio knew the human body and all the lessons of Michelangelo. The way he showed Peter’s body in Mannerist foreshortening, a faint light from the lower left shining on the body showing all the lines of Peter’s muscles and all the lines of age of Peter’s old face, is simply remarkable. Caravaggio preferred to situate the scene at light so that no superfluous details could distract our view from the essence of the scene.

Caravaggio shows his famous composition based on slanting lines. There are two such directions here in the painting. One direction is the line of the cross of Peter. The other is almost perpendicular to the cross and Caravaggio emphasised this direction by drawing the line of the rope with which one of the helpers pulls on the cross. Caravaggio had to fill in the space under the cross, so he put here a man who heaves on the wood with his bent back. We also only see the back of the man who pulls the rope and indeed, as compared to Peter, these figures are relatively unimportant, as would be any landscape. Thus the drama is centred on Peter and on Peter alone. Remark how the main directions do not follow the main diagonals. This was yet another means of Caravaggio to denote instant movement, the brink of the action, and the difference between his views and tradition.

Classicism and Baroque were two answers to Mannerism. Classicism was static dignity, whereas Baroque was liveliness in action. Caravaggio certainly was a genius, but unlike the Carraccis he did not paint from out of an intellectual, logical reasoned choice. He painted with his guts, based on his own particular feelings for composition. He was probably also a very intelligent man, and endowed with a talent that he could master instead of letting it grow wild as for instance Rosso Fiorentino and Giulio Romano did. Therefore Caravaggio resembles the Carracci’s style, maybe even more than his style resembles the style of later Baroque phases. Caravaggio did not theorise on his art, but it was taken up as a major art that in the Baroque would be the main way of representation of at least a hundred years to come.

Jacopo Negreti called Palma Il Giovane

Palma Giovane’s real name was Jacopo di Antonio Negreti. He was a great-nephew of the other Jacopo Negreti, now called Palma Vecchio. Palma Giovane probably learned to paint in his father’s workshop in Venice, but in 1567 the Duke of Urbino already acted as his Maecenas and supported him to live in Rome. Palma Giovane worked there until about 1573, and then returned to Venice. After a fire in the Doges’ palace in 1577 he worked with Veronese and Tintoretto on the new decoration fort he palace. He had his own workshop in Venice and after Titian’s, Veronese’s and Tintoretto’s deaths he remained the greatest of the Venetian painters of the sixteenth century. He painted mainly scenes from ancient mythology after 1600. Before that he had mostly worked for churches and Scuola’s of Venice. The ‘Crucifixion of Saint Peter’ is a late work of Palma Giovane: he was about sixty-six years old when the painting was made.

The painting shows a double view: of Saint Peter’s crucifixion on earth and a glory in heaven above. The scene is painted in a view that goes upward; it must have hung high in a church or Scuola, or having been a cartoon for a work on a high wall or ceiling. It is very much a Venetian image.

Palma Giovane painted Saint Peter’s crucifixion below. Peter asked to be crucified upside down because he felt he was so much the less than Jesus. So Peter’s cross was reverted and we see men nailing the old Peter to the cross. A large crowd of soldiers and Romans has gathered, among whom are also men on horseback. Palma Giovane painted elements of a landscape here. The scene is very lively and dramatic, with all figures showing great energy in action. The scene is painted in brown and yellow hues, almost like a camaieu. Above the lower scene on earth are white-grey-blue clouds and these separate the earth from the heavens. Palma Giovane was a very accomplished painter. He painted all the figures with much vigour and he used just a few white touches diligently to indicate the play of light coming from the Trinity, to sculpt the bodies of Peter and of the soldiers. Admire for instance the fine detailing of the Roman centurion on the left, and the head of his horse.

The scene in heaven is equally grand. God the Father thrones on clouds and Jesus the Son sits next to him. Above is the dove that represents the Holy Spirit. So here Palma Giovane represented the Trinity. The Virgin Mary is on the left, under and next to her son Jesus. Around this scene are angels with trumpets and other angels showing the instruments of Jesus’s Passion. Palma Giovane conceived the scene as an adoration of the Trinity, but the Trinity and the saints and angels have come to witness a major event on earth. The scene is also very lively in heaven, with all angels engaged in some action, in different poises and in movement. The image here is also painted in brown, yellow and white hues. We might imagine the picture of Palma Giovane as his own private vision at a late age of the Trinity and the grandeur of Peter’s crucifixion. Mary and the saints in heaven have gathered at a scene of horror but that scene saw also a triumph of the church and of Christian faith.

Palma Giovane must have been influenced much by other compositions and scenes of crucifixions. His picture makes us think of Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Pauline Chapel of the Vatican and also of Tintoretto’s paintings in the Scuola Grande di san Rocco in Venice. Palma Giovane used the darker, brown hues of ochre that one finds also with many Venetian painters such as Titian and Tintoretto. The picture resembles very much the dynamic, theatrical staging of Tintoretto. Palma Giovane did not use however Tintoretto’s touches of bright colour; by which this artist brought further liveliness in his palette and pictures. Palma Giovane’s painting may have remained unfinished and merely a sketch that concentrated on the composition of figures, before the painter would have applied the last touches of brighter hues here and there.

Palma Giovane’s painting is not a picture anymore of the Venetian renaissance. It is a Mannerist and Baroque painting of the seventeenth century. The overt, demonstrative show of emotions is complete in the picture, fully in the style of Tintoretto, like Tintoretto used also in the Scuola di San Rocco. It announces the large works of fantastic, grand glory of the heavens as painted by for instance Giovanni Lanfranco in the domes of Roman churches.

With Palma Giovane, who worked with Titian during the latter’s last years and who finished Titian’s last Pietà, the era of the great Venetian painters stopped virtually. There would be painters from abroad who would still work in Venice, attracted by the city’s wealth and avidity of pictures, but the energy of Titian, Veronese and Tintoretto had fled from the town. One would have to wait until the eighteenth century to find back a renewal and originality in Venetian art. Venice had by then declined, but this decline seemed to have called for a last burst of creativity in Sebastiano Ricci (1659-1734), Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini (1675-1741), Francesco Guardi (1712-1793), Giovanni Battista Piazetta (1683-1754) and of course the greatest of all, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770).

Saint Peter heals Saint Agatha in her Prison

Saint Agatha was a virgin and a martyr, who died in Catania of the island of Sicily. She was a wealthy girl but the Roman Consul Quintinian tried to seduce her. She refused to give her to the Roman Consul, so he handed her over to a brothel but there also and miraculously she kept her virginity intact. The Roman then tortured her with fire and beat her with sticks. Her breasts were pinched and cut of. In her prison she had a vision of Saint Peter, who came in her cell to heal her. She died on a grid of hot coals and that after an earthquake. Her life remains a gruesome legend of torture, no dates are documented, but her stories were assembled in the Martyrology of Saint Jerome and she is prayed to in Sicily against earthquakes.

Alessandro Turchi was born in Verona around 1578 and hence also called Alessandro Veronese. He was also called ‘Il Orbetto’ or guide, because as a young boy he had guided his father who had become a beggar after being afflicted with blindness. When he was about ten years old, Turchi was already apprenticed to a painter, to Felice Brusasorzi, and he worked in this studio in Verona. When his master died around 1605, Alessandro Turchi opened his own workshop. Verona is not far from Venice and Turchi may have travelled to Venice, but he was in Rome in 1614 and stayed there until his death in 1649. He worked in Rome for the famous cardinal Scipione Borghese and for other wealthy Romans. Alessandro Turchi was a member of Rome’s Accademia di San Luca and he even became its director in 1637, so he was also well accepted in Roman notable circles.

Turchi made many versions of ‘Saint Agatha visited in Prison by Saint Peter’. Other copies are in the Walters Art gallery of Baltimore, in the galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica in Rome, in the Musée des Beaux Arts of Nantes and in the Fitzwilliam Museum of the University of Cambridge. The version conserved in the Musée des Beaux Arts of Strasbourg is one of the finest. It is remarkable how pictures of one and the same theme of Alessandro Turchi are thus conserved in France, England, Italy and the USA. Turchi is thus considered among the greater masters of painting. The painting is also remarkable because it belongs to a rather rare category of pictures of night scenes, lit only by candlelight. Only few painters took on such difficult subjects, among whom we should cite Luca Cambiaso of Genua (1527-1585), Gherard van Honthorst (1590-1656), George de La Tour (1593-1652), who worked in the Lorraine region of France, Francesco Bassano (1549-1592) and the great Antonio Allegri called Correggio (1489-1534). Most of these painters were of the same period. The theme of Saint Agatha in prison is not too rare, but Turchi worked in Rome where Saint Peter’s prison was and scenes of Peter in prison were common there.

Turchi’s scene represents Saint Agatha sitting on the stones of her cell. Saint peter visits her and he is accompanied by an angel who may have answered Agatha’s pleas and called Peter. The angel holds a torch and he presents a pot with healing balsam to Peter. Paintings in candlelight or torchlight are difficult to make because the artist has to imagine the effects of a point source of light and he or she can use only few colours. In feeble light the colour red should rapidly fade away to black, but Turchi painted his while picture in warm red and brown hues and rather turned to black the blue cloak of Agatha. The wonderful skill of Turchi however is in his depiction of the effects of the light falling on the naked bodies of Agatha and of the angel. Turchi painted these in full, bright light, and he used delicate and gradual shadows to shape the bodies. Saint Peter remains somewhat more in the shadows but also on him we must admire how Turchi painted the play of light, on the robe of Peter, on his cloak, and how Turchi gradually forced parts of Peter’s cloak into the sombre background. If the painting was indeed made around 1630, Caravaggio had already painted his strong masterworks of contrasts between light and shadow so that Turchi was also more inclined to paint such effects.

In the composition of the painting the masses of light to the left of Agatha and to the right of the angel balance each other in symmetry. Turchi made the angel offer the pot of balsam and holding the torch, gestures which evoke a movement forwards towards Agatha. This movement then is prolonged in Saint Peter, who inclines towards Agatha. Saint Peter almost touches Agatha’s head with his right hand, and Agatha’s foot is close to Peter’s foot. The two figures are thus linked, but Peter cannot touch the human, like Jesus could not touch Mary Magdalene after his resurrection. Peter remains a creature that belongs to the heaven, the scene a vision of Agatha. Agatha inclines her head in discouragement, but by that movement she puts her face in line with Peter’s hand and also with his face. Thus Turchi in a subtle way joined his figures. His composition may be rather rigid, but the movements of his actors – though very soft – make the scene sufficiently vivid. Turchi added to the movement by depicting the robes of Agatha and of the angel flow freely, as if in a sudden divine wind, around their bodies. Such delicate touches show that Turchi was an accomplished, intelligent and subtle painter. We cannot but admire the play of light on the bodies of Agatha and of the angel. Turchi showed the bodies quite similar, slim, with delicate young traits and he painted Agatha a pure, innocent girl with forms of chest that are hardly different from the angel.

There are three ways to arrive at religion. One can become a religious person because of logic reasoning. They reason about the complexity and beauty of nature and argue that such nature cannot have come to be without the action of a supernatural being. That reasoning must be flawed, because no logic can prove the existence of a God, but it remains one means whereby persons indeed convince themselves the existence of a Deity. A second way to have religious feelings is through mysticism and asceticism. People may be very sensitive of character, and through this sensitivity arrive at the intuition of a Godly presence. They want and desire to become one with this mysterious presence, sometimes impersonified in the grandness of impressive or strange natural landscapes. Such extremely distinct sources of religious behaviour as logic and intuition will always exist and fuel religions.

The third road to religion comes from the seeking of solace from suffering. Life is not easy and with age one can bear less well all the small challenges of life, the setbacks and disappointments of human life. Tragedies can happen: one may lose shelter and health, grow blind; dear ones may die, be unhappy or suffer greatly in flesh and spirit. Such feelings of suffering ask for a catharsis, which can most often not be found with fellow-humans but must and can only be sought inside in the person only. Religion then offers the ready alternative: the image of a God or saint that could promise solace. This image is always present and can be called upon at will. The person knows that such existence is accepted and taken for truth by so many other humans, that there is always the hope that indeed such a presence is ready to hear appeal in praying. This third and last way to arrive at religion drives most of the common believers. Christian religion presented many saints and for women the cruel faith of Agatha, hurt in her very womanhood because her breasts were cut off, epitomised the suffering woman rescued by the heavens, by Saint Peter himself. Such images were thus many and powerful in European Christianism. It is symptomatic that in times of crisis, of war or of natural disasters, the churches of Europe fill with people whereas in times of abundance the churches are empty. Then only the elder women, always the first to be forgotten and to be alone, shyly enter the buildings that we call and use then as historical monuments, and pray silently before the marble altars, now devoid of the marvellous paintings such as Alessandro Turchi’s ‘Agatha and Saint Peter’, but always with these pictures in mind.

Other paintings:

Copyright: René Dewil Back to the navigation screen (if that screen has been closed) Last updated: January 2007
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