Apparition of the Apostle Saint Peter to Saint Peter Nolasco
Artist: Francisco de Zurbaran
Oil on canvas; Size: 179x223cm; Prado, Madrid.
The apparition of the crucified St. Peter to Peter Nolasco is a well-known episode in the saint's life and appears in all the representations inspired by it. For some time the friar had desired to make a journey to the tomb of his illustrious namesake in Rome, but was continually obliged to put it off for a variety of reasons, until the saint appeared to him in a dream for three nights running, consoling him for his inability to make the pilgrimage. On the third night he appeared crucified upside down and advised him not to leave Spain, where his presence was required to carry out an important task. In fact Peter Nolasco, who lived around the middle of the 13th century, founded an order for the purpose of ransoming Christian captives from the Moors and in 1248 accompanied the king on his reconquest of Seville. Shortly before dying, he established (1249) the monastery of Nuestra Senora de la Merced Calzada.
The oil painting, painted in 1629, was part of a series commissioned from Zurbaran by the superior of that same monastery for the cloister of "Los Bojos" to celebrate the canonization of Peter Nolasco, which had taken place that year. The extraordinary realism in the representation of the individual figures, an evident echo of Caravaggio paintings, and the almost total absence of a setting, reduced to the shadows from which the figures emerge, are what gives this striking image its power.
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