Sunday, February 10, 2019

Calling Peter: From Fish to Men

Calling of Peter and Andrew
From Sermons by Maurice de Sully
Italian (Milan or Genoa), c. 1320-1330
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 187, fol. 19


“While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening
to the word of God,
he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret.
He saw two boats there alongside the lake;
the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets.
Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon,
he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore.
Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.
After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon,
"Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch."
Simon said in reply,
"Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing,
but at your command I will lower the nets."
When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish
and their nets were tearing.
They signaled to their partners in the other boat
to come to help them.
They came and filled both boats
so that the boats were in danger of sinking.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said,
"Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man."
For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him
and all those with him,
and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee,
who were partners of Simon.
Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid;
from now on you will be catching men."
When they brought their boats to the shore,
they left everything and followed him.”

Luke 5:1-11
Gospel for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
February 10, 2019

Early in his mission Jesus called to himself a group of people who became his followers, his disciples and, ultimately, for eleven of the twelve men named in the Gospels, his Apostles.  The stories of the men he called are found in the various Gospel accounts.  All of them held modest positions in their own time.  None of them were among the elite of the era.  Four of them in particular were working at their craft, that of being fishermen on the lake of Galilee, Genneseret, as related by the Gospel of today.  These four men, and especially the three named Simon, James and John, would become the nucleus of the group of disciples.  One of them would have his name changed from Simon to Peter because of his rock like personality.  The lives of all would be changed forever by that single night’s fishing expedition and they would go on to spread the word about the Word and change billions of lives over twenty centuries.  Each year the Church reminds us of the event, of its consequences and that we too are called to follow in the footsteps of these fishermen, farmers and tax collectors.
The subject of the calling of the apostles has been a constant one in the history of western art, but it has not been highly popular, at least not the calling of the first disciples, like Peter, Andrew, James and John.  The dramatic conversion of Matthew, the tax farmer, has always been more famous.  Never the less, there is a nice trail of iconography, even if a narrow one.

Calling of Peter and Andrew
Reproduction of a Sixth Century Original
Byzantine, c. 1924
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
For the first 1,500 years of Christianity (although not much “art” was produced in the first two hundred or so) the story was told very simply.  Initially, Jesus stands on the shore directing the men to put down their nets.  

Giovanni di Benedetto and Workshop, Calling of Peter and Andrew
From A Missal
Italian, c. 1385-1390
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 757, fol. 367

This isn’t exactly how the story is told in Luke, but is probably a bit of a fudge between the story of the calling of the Apostles and the scene in Galilee after the Resurrection, where the risen Jesus summons them to breakfast and a miraculously large catch.  However, we can be fairly certain which story is really meant by several clues:  the presence of another (or even several other boats) and the absence of a fire, since one of the points of the post-Resurrection account is that Jesus is seen to cook and eat fish, proving He is no ghost, but a real Person.
Master of the Soane Josephus and Others, Calling of Peter and Andrew
From Bible Historiale of Edward IV by Guyart des Moulins
Flemish, c. 1479
London, British Library
MS Royal 15 D I, fol. 368

By the fifteenth-century the story begins to be told accurately, with Jesus located in a boat, instead of on the shore.  Several episodes from the same story might be depicted in the same frame, so we might see Jesus sitting in more than one boat.  In such works the artist was trying to honor the several different points at which Jesus can have been active in the story. And, as had been true from the beginning, the images were to a certain extent highly symbolic.  That is, the image is like a tableau.  There is little or no attempt to depict motion.  Each image stands for, or symbolizes, the Biblical chapter on which it is based, but the storytelling is not dynamic.
Claes Brouwer, et al., The Calling of Peter
From a History Bible
Dutch, c. 1430
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliotheek
MS KB 78 D 38 II, fol. 152v
Calling of Peter and Andrew
From the Egmont Breviary
Dutch (Utrecht), c. 1435-1445
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 87. fol. 297v

In 1515, the very important artistic genius, Raphael, was commissioned to design a set of tapestries for use in the lower lever of the Sistine Chapel.  The hangings were to be used only on extremely special occasions, which is why they survive today in beautiful condition.  They were woven in Flanders, then part of the territory controlled by the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V.  

Raphael, Calling of Peter and Andrew
Full Size Tapestry Cartoon
Italian, 1515
London, Victoria and Albert Museum
Since Raphael could not abandon his many projects then underway in Rome (such as the painted decoration of many parts of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican) he prepared full sized “cartoons” to direct the weavers.  This kind of cartoon is a full-scale, highly detailed, painted version of the artist’s intentions.  For many years they had been used to assist artists in transferring their ideas onto the wet plaster which is the surface on which frescoes are painted.  They were similarly used to transfer outlines of works to canvas or panel for moveable paintings.  And they were used for tapestry.  The tapestry cartoons were placed behind the upright looms on which the weavers worked, so that they could see what they were supposed to be creating.  That is why, incidentally, directions are reversed on the tapestry, since weavers also face the back of the piece they are making.  Therefore, the front of the tapestry, which actually faces the cartoon surface reproduces it backwards, so that left is right. 


Raphael, Completed Tapestry of the Calling of Peter and Andres
Flemish, c. 1519
Vatican, Musei Vaticana, Pinacoteca
By a kind of miracle, the weavers kept the cartoons once the tapestries were done in 1519.  They produced additional sets for wealthy collectors in the Low Countries and elsewhere in Northern Europe.  The cartoons eventually ended up (again somewhat miraculously) in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.  It is extraordinary that for this major work by a major artist of the High Renaissance we have both the original and the contemporary tapestry copy, complete.  One can see the original cartoons in London and some (occasionally all) the tapestry copies in Rome. 
Jacopo Bassano, Calling of Peter and Andrew
Italian, 1545
Washington, National Gallery of Art

However, Raphael’s masterful version of the scene had a huge impact.  It is dynamic, without being showy.  Peter is moved to acknowledge his sinfulness to Christ, with his brother not far behind, while around him the other men go about their attempts to contain the fish. Not surprisingly, it set the standard for many years afterwards.  In the later part of the sixteenth century artists frequently copied it virtually verbatim in their own work on the subject.  The quotation was sometimes disguised by setting it into the background of a genre scene.
Battista Franco, Calling of Peter and Andrew
Italian, c. 1550
Paris, Musée du Louvre

However, one of Raphael’s admirers and early biographer, Giorgio Vasari, returned to the idea of the encounter being on the shore.  Vasari also returned to the earlier method of telling other parts of the story in the background.  In his background, Andrew points Jesus out to Peter, a story narrated in the Gospel of John (John 1:35-41).
Giorgio Vasari, Calling of St. Peter and St. Andrew
Italian, No Date (Lived 1511-1574)
Vatican City, Apostolic Palace, Former Room of the Swiss Guard

From this point on, throughout the centuries, the narrative of the meeting between Jesus and the man who would one day be the foundation for the living Church that He would establish could be seen by artists as taking place either on land or in the boats, but never again were they simply static, symbolic images of an already known story. 


Attributed to Marteen de Vos, Scenes from the Life of Christ and the Apostles
Flemish, 16th Century
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado
Peter Paul Rubens, Calling of Peter
Flemish, c. 1618-1619
London, National Gallery

Michel Corneille II, Calling of Peter and Andrew
French, 1673
Rennes, Musée des Beaux-Arts


Jean Jouvenet, Calling of Peter and Andrew
French, c. 1700
Paris, Musée du Louvre
Charles Joseph Natoire, Calling of Peter and Andrew
French, c. 1750
Pau, Musée des Beaux-Arts
Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps, Calling of Peter and Andrew
French, 1853
London, Wallace Collection

James Tissot, Calling of Peter
French, c. 1886-1896
New York, Brooklyn Museum
They now depicted landscapes that could be seen as real places and the deep emotions of surprise, penitence and commitment that are included in the Gospel account.

© M. Duffy, 2019

Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner.


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