POUSSIN, Nicolas
(b. 1594, Les Andelys, d. 1665, Roma)

Sts Peter and John Healing the Lame Man

Oil on canvas, 126 x 165 cm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

This is the latest of Poussin's three great cityscapes of the mid-1650s, each of which portrays a narrative from the New Testament against a background of massive classical architecture. The two other paintings, Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery of 1653, and The Death of Sapphira of about 1654, are in the Louvre, Paris. All three are strongly influenced by the art of Raphael, in particular his tapestry cartoons of the Acts of the Apostles made for the Sistine Chapel, seven of which survive in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

The subject of Saints Peter and John Healing the Lame Man, the first miracle performed by the Apostles after the death of Christ, is taken from Acts 3:1–10. At the gate of the Temple of Jerusalem a lame man begging for alms is miraculously cured by Peter, who asks him to rise up and walk, and John, who touches his arm and points to heaven - the true source of the miracle. The stairs, at the top of which this encounter is staged, are animated with carefully balanced figure groups, not unlike Raphael's 1508 fresco of the School of Athens (Vatican Museums). Some of the witnesses express amazement, while others simply go about their business. The young man on the second step gazing toward the right has been borrowed from Raphael's fresco. The facial type of the lame man and, to a great extent, his pose are closely modeled on the figure in Raphael's cartoon of this subject, and the hands of St Peter and the lame man recall those of Adam and God the Father in Michelangelo's famous Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel.