Saturday, June 30, 2012

Peter and Paul and Jerusalem

Filippino Lippi, St. Paul Visiting St. Peter in Prison
Italian, 1481-1482
Florence, Church of Santa Maria del Carmine,
Brancacci Chapel, 
June 29th is the combined feast of the two patrons of Christian Rome, Saint Peter and Saint Paul. These two men, the outspoken Galilean fisherman and the Jerusalem-educated sailmaker from Tarsus, the apostle who walked with (and denied and loved) Jesus and the persecutor-turned-apostle, both died in the city that was the capital of the Roman Empire within a short space of each other and the sites of their burials are among the earliest of Christian churches.  Peter is particularly honored today as the bedrock of the Roman diocese and, by extension, of the universal Church. The Gospel for today recounts the scene from the Gospel of Matthew, sometimes called “The Giving of the Keys” that includes the statement: 
“I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my Church,
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 16:18-19)
Excerpt from the Gospel for June 29, 2012

However, today I am going to concentrate on the First Reading for the Mass of today. This reading from the Acts of the Apostles recounts the miraculous liberation of St. Peter from imprisonment in Jerusalem by Herod.
"On the very night before Herod was to bring him to trial,
Peter, secured by double chains,
was sleeping between two soldiers,
while outside the door guards kept watch on the prison.
Suddenly the angel of the Lord stood by him
and a light shone in the cell.
He tapped Peter on the side and awakened him, saying,
"Get up quickly."
The chains fell from his wrists.
The angel said to him, "Put on your belt and your sandals."
He did so.
Then he said to him, "Put on your cloak and follow me."
So he followed him out,
not realizing that what was happening through the angel was real;
he thought he was seeing a vision.
They passed the first guard, then the second,
and came to the iron gate leading out to the city,
which opened for them by itself.
They emerged and made their way down an alley,
and suddenly the angel left him.” (Acts 12:6-10)
Excerpt from First Reading for June 29, 2012

The illustrations for this passage from Acts range from barebones representations in the early medieval period to complex works of the late Baroque. At the beginning representations are almost schematic. They feature the bare minimum needed to tell the story: St. Peter, the angel and a suggestion of prison walls.
Liberation of St. Peter
From Lectionarium officii s. petri cluniacensis, 
France (Cluny), 11th-12th Century
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Nouvelle acquisition latine 2246, fol. 113v

Initial N, Liberation of St. Peter
from a Gradual, Sequentiary, Sacramentary
German (Weingarten), 1225-1250
New York, Morgan Library
MS M.711, fo. 25r
Later on, there is a fairytale quality to the representation: St. Peter and the angel appear much larger than the tiny symbolic prison.
Liberation of St. Peter
From Bible historiale by Guiard des Moulins,
France (St. Omer), 14th Century
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 152, fol. 457v

Regensburg Cathedral of St. Peter
Liberation of St. Peter, West Facade Tympanum
German (Regensburg), 1411-1421
Claes Brouwer and the Alexander Master, Liberation of St. Peter
From Historiated Bible
Dutch (Utrecht), ca. 1430
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliothek
MS KB 78 D 3811, fol. 213v
Tapestry, Liberation of St. Peter
Flanders (Tournai), 1460
Part of a set commissioned for the Cathedral of Beauvais
Paris, Cluny Museum
It remained for the Ranaissance to bring the picture into focus, as it were. The prison is now in scale (mostly) with the figures.

Filippino Lippi, Liberation of St. Peter (Detail)
Italian, 1481-1482
Florence, Church of Santa Maria del Carmine, Brancacci Chapel

But it is Raphael, in his design for the depiction of the scene surrounding one of the doors in the Stanza d’Eliodoro at the Vatican Palace in 1514 that finally “set the scene” firmly in time and space.
Raphael and Assistants, Liberation of St. Peter
Italian, 1514
Vatican City, Vatican Museums, Stana d'Eliodoro
Raphael tells the story in three sections: a scene of the guards outside the prison on the left, the scene of the sleeping Peter being roused by the angel in the center and the scene of the angel leading Peter out of the prison on the right.

Raphael and Assistants, Liberation of St. Peter
Left Section

Raphael and Assistants, Liberation of St. Peter
Central Section
Raphael and Assistants, Liberation of St. Peter
Right Section
Leading the way to the future is Raphael’s exploration of the effects of light. We see the effect of moonlight as well as the mysterious light that emanates from the angel.

This is quite different from the flat lighting that was seen in earlier images and leads to the development, which gathered strength during the century after Raphael and leads to the Baroque experiments with light and darkness that sprang from the work of Caravaggio and his followers.

We can see this in later representations of the Liberation of Peter by Steenwyck, Carraciolo, and others.

Hendrick van Steenwyck the Younger, Liberation of St. Peter
Dutch, Oil on copper, ca. 1610
Windsor, Royal Collection
Giovanni Batista Carrociolo, Liberation of St. Peter
Italian, 1615
Naples, Museo Nationale di Capodimonte
Antonio de Pereda, Liberation of St. Peter
Spanish, ca. 1643
Madrid, Museo del Prado
Mattia Preti, Liberation of St. Peter
Italian, 1650-1660
Vienna, Akademie der bildenden Kuenste
Bartolome Murillo, Liberation of St. Peter
Spanish, 1667
St. Petersburg, Hermitage Museum

And, along with the the movement introduced by the play of light, comes movement in the composition.   The angel no longer approaches sedately, instead he bursts into the picture, full of energy, to arouse Peter from sleep, to extract him from his chains and to lead him out. 
Gerrit van Honthorst, Liberation of St. Peter
Dutch, 1616-1618
Berlin,Staatliche Museen
Guercino, Liberation of St. Peter
Italian, 1620-1623
Madrid, Prado
Sebastiano Ricci, Liberation of St. Peter
Italian, 1722
Venice, Church of San Stae
Peter was led out of prison in Jerusalem to spread the Gospel and lead the Church in its formative years.  Eventually, he came to Rome where he was again imprisoned and, finally, executed in the circus of Nero at the base of the Vatican hill, across the Tiber from Imperial Rome.  Afterwards he was buried in the cemetery across the road from his place of death and, in the year 319 Constantine began construction of a large basilican church above his grave.  Today, Pope Benedict XVI, the 265th successor of Peter, and Metropolitan Emmanuel Adamakis, leader of the Greek Orthodox in France, representing Patriarch Batholemew I of Constantinople, the successor of Peter's brother, Andrew, prayed together above Peter's tomb, while the combined choirs of the Sistine Chapel and Westminster Abbey (Anglican) sang the moving anthem "Tu es Petrus" ("You are Peter", quoted from the Gospel reading of the day) by Lorenzo Perosi (1872-1956).  It was quite a moment!

©  M. Duffy, 2012

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