|GianLorenzo Bernini, Feed My Sheep|
Bronze back panel from Cathedra Petri
Vatican, St. Peter's Basilica
He then said to Simon Peter a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep."
Immediately following the mysterious breakfast on the shore of Galilee the Gospel of John presents us with this dialogue between the Risen Jesus and Peter. From the narrative it appears that the two are still in the presence of the other disciples named in the same chapter of John. What is this passage doing?
First, the three times repeated question “Do you love me?” and Peter’s three replies “ Lord, you know that I love you” are intended to erase Peter’s three denials in the early hours of Good Friday “I do not know the man”.
Then, the responses of Jesus: “Feed my lambs”, “Tend my sheep” and “Feed my sheep” represent a handing over to Peter of the role of Good Shepherd spelled out in John 10. Peter is now to be the shepherd of the sheep (John 10:2), the sheepgate (John 10:7) and the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11). Like Matthew 16: 15-19 this passage seems to confirm Peter’s leadership of the Apostles and of the early church.
It is, therefore, surprising that very few works of art have focused on this scene, even among those commissioned by the Popes. Instead, most pictures, like the Sistine Chapel fresco by Perugino below) have focused on the text in Matthew
“He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"
Simon Peter said in reply, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."
Jesus said to him in reply, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood 12 has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.
And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, 13 and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Matthew 16:15-19)
|Pietro Perugino, Keys of the Kingdom|
Vatican, Sistine Chapel
In 1515 Pope Leo X commissioned Raphael to prepare drawings for a series of tapestries to be displayed in the Sistine Chapel. The tapestries were commissioned to hang below the already existing frescoes in the Chapel, among them the Perugino above. They were planned to cover up what the painted images of hanging draperies that form the lowest register of the Sistine Chapel walls.
|Raphael, Tapestries in situ, 2010|
Vatican, Sistine Chapel
|Raphael, "Feed My Sheep" Cartoon|
London, Victoria and Albert Museum
|Raphael, "Feed My Sheep" Tapestry|
In the composition of the Commission to Peter the two principal figures are seen to the side of the composition, Christ standing and gesturing to both the sheep and the kneeling figure of Peter, who holds the keys, symbolic of the text from Matthew. The other ten Apostles fill the other side of the composition. In the forefront of the group one can clearly see St. John with his traditionally beardless face and flowing hair. This emphasizes his role as eyewitness. The entire scene is set in a tranquil, lakeside landscape.
|The tapestry displayed in situ in |
the Sistine Chapel
|Peter Paul Rubens|
London, Wallace Collection
New York, Brooklyn Museum
The image by Tissot focuses more on Peter’s responses than on the possible significance of the scene. There are no sheep in evidence, merely the other Apostles, who follow at a small distance, and the rocky shore. It is the gestures of Peter and Jesus that set the tone and evoke the words of John’s Gospel. The potential significance of the words and scene are not in evidence.