Caravaggio:
Peter's Denial


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  • Oil on canvas, 1610
  • 94 x 125 cm
  • Shickman Gallery, New York

The event portrayed takes place on the evening Jesus is arrested and taken to the house of Caiphas. Although most of the apostles have fled, Peter follows the Lord, even going into the courtyard of the High Priest. There he is confronted as being one of Jesus's followers, and he denies it three times.

This is one of the last paintings Caravaggio worked on. And it contains a number of both familiar and unusual themes. After the artist's many attempts to intensify the dynamics of a scene from the right, this composition offers a dramatic sequence of figures from the left. On a very dark night with deep shadows and without any indication of artificial light, a soldier wearing a helmet and armor appears from the left. He is turning his face so far round to the maid that it gets swallowed up by the darkness.

The maid herself, her face obscured by the soldier's shadow, is peering at the soldier from close quarters. She is pointing her left hand at St Peter, who is holding both hands against his chest in a gestion of confirmation. For the apostle, Caravaggio has chosen a model who might well pass for an executioner or a villain. At this point, the viewer is not expected to sympathize with Peter's plight.

 

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