In this painting the apostle Peter, depicted in half-length against a dark mountainside, is recognizable from the Keys of Heaven and from his characteristic white hair and beard; Peter’s attire, a golden robe over a blue or green tunic, is another conventional element in his depictions. We encounter him here as he distraughtly repents having disavowed Jesus the night before the Crucifixion. A woman in the background to the right of Peter is carrying an alabaster jar, the attribute of Mary Magdalene. She has just received the angel’s message that Christ has risen and is on her way to inform Peter.
During the Catholic Church’s Counter-Reformation, the motif of the repentant Peter was frequently used in Spanish and Italian art to promote the significance of the sacrament of penance and reconciliation. In El Greco’s depiction, the experience of religious faith is conveyed through Peter’s heavenward gaze and folded hands, as well as through the light illuminating him from above. The emotional intensity is heightened by El Greco’s characteristic colours and dynamic, diagonal composition.
El Greco (The Greek) was the sobriquet of Doménikos Theotokópoulos. He was born in Crete but moved at an early age to Venice, where he studied under Titian and was influenced by the mannerism of Tintoretto. He subsequently lived a few years in Rome before relocating to Toledo in Spain, where he spent the latter half of his life and where he created his most celebrated works, including St. Peter Repentant, of which he painted several versions.
Text: Nina Denney Ness
From "Highlights. Art from Antiquity to 1945", Nasjonalmuseet 2014, ISBN 978-82-8154-088-0