(b. 1571, Caravaggio, d. 1610, Porto Ercole)

The Crucifixion of Saint Peter

Oil on canvas, 230 x 175 cm
Cerasi Chapel, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome

The Crucifixion of St Peter in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo is one of two paintings in the Cerasi Chapel. Three shady characters, their faces hidden or turned away, are pulling, dragging and pushing the cross to which Peter has been nailed by the feet with his head down.

Caravaggio's St Peter is not a heroic martyr, nor a Herculean hero in the manner of Michelangelo, but an old man suffering pain and in fear of death. The scene, set on some stony field, is grim. The dark, impenetrable background draws the spectator's gaze back again to the sharply illuminated figures who remind us, through the banal ugliness of their actions and movements - note the yellow rear and filthy feet of the lower figure - that the death of the apostle was not a heroic drama, but a wretched and humiliating execution.