• Saint Peter Repentant

Saint Peter Repentant

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Saint Peter Repentant
Artist: Georges de La Tour
Oil painting on canvas; Size: 114.5x95cm; Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland.

Saint Peter Repentant by Georges de La Tour is signed and dated at top right "Georg de La Tour inve[nit] et pinx [it] 1645," the painting work is one of the artist's finest nocturnal scenes. The episode from the Gospels it represents is a well-known one: Peter, after the arrest of Christ, denied ever having known him, thereby fulfilling Jesus's prophecy: "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice." Realizing what he has done, the apostle repents. This is the moment the painter has chosen to depict. However, only the rooster refers directly to the Gospel story: Peter is presented as an old man, with none of the attributes typical of the saint's iconography, and the setting is reduced to a minimum. The religion message of the work is entrusted to the acute investigation of the expression, to the eyes turned upward, staring at a point outside the painting canvas, the open mouth and the wrung hands, in a moment of remorse but also of wonder at the prophecy that has just come true. But it is the light that dominates the composition: a symbolic light that descends from above and illuminates Peter's face, and the real light of the large lantern at the bottom. As in other works, La Tour conceals the flame to obtain a realistic effect and places the greatest luministic emphasis on the nearest object, in this case Peter's right leg: the effect, in the setting cloaked in shadow which fades into total darkness, is that of a dazzling light. Yet the most virtuoso passage is the description of the robe, one of La Tour's finest achievements: the thin cloth lets the light through and becomes translucent, allowing us to make out the shape of the old man's legs, while the rather worn hems are illuminated against the left calf in shadow.

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