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Saint Peter in Tears

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo

Sevilla, 1617-1682

Saint Peter in Tears

Oil on canvas

148 x 104 cm

c. 1650-1655

Deposited by the Provincial Council of Bizkaia, after dation by BBVA in 2000

This pathetic image of St Peter repented of his denial of Christ, according to the story in the Gospels, was attributed to Ribera on account of its naturalism and the tenebrist lighting that makes the figure stand out against a dark uniform background. Nonetheless, it has been unanimously recognised as the work of the Sevillian painter Murillo, dated relatively early in his production, around the years 1650-1655, when Ribera exerted a strong but mellow influence over the former. The disposition of the figure creates the effect of a slightly downward diagonal from right to left, and the ashlar on which the book and the keys are placed relate the work to other compositions such as Ribera’s Saint Jerome in The Cleveland Museum of Art, of roughly the same period. The face, expressing restrained pathos, expresses grief and hope very well, while the materials, with rounded pleats, are characteristic of the time the work was probably painted. Twenty years later Murillo tackled the same theme again in a canvas for the Hospital of the Venerables in Seville, today kept in the Townsend Collection in Newick. This version was similarly inspired in Ribera but painted in the artist’s more diaphanous style of 1678, year in which the work has been dated after Ponz and Ceán Bermúdez, who apparently had access to documentation on the subject. This is a significant work among those produced in the mid-seventeenth century, when Murillo was gradually moving away from Tenebrism towards greater expressive freedom. While the composition is indebted to the standing figures of saints painted by Zurbarán, Murillo’s sensitivity has little in common with the austerity of the Estremaduran artist and his pictures of saints, with their delicate and free-flowing technique, are the very expression of holiness. [A.E.P.S.]