(b. 1518, Venezia, d. 1594, Venezia)

The Vision of St Peter

c. 1556
Oil on canvas, 420 x 240 cm
Madonna dell'Orto, Venice

According to the legend, a vision of the Cross brought Peter back to Rome where he was crucified upside down. The four angels, reminiscent of flying figures in Michelangelo's Last Judgment, have partially transparent wings of different colours. They may be the four archangels Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel, or they may symbolize the four theological virtues of the Love of God, Charity, Faith, and Hope. The two angels at the top, at least, were probably painted from the same three-dimensional model. Tintoretto intentionally places the golden key of heaven between St Peters thighs. Contemporary comedies leave us in no doubt about the erotic symbolism of the key. It was also the subject of the satirical piece La chiave (The Key) by Tintoretto's friend Anton Francesco Doni. Since Peter is clearly shown here as the first pope, this daring pictorial joke may be seen as evidence of the widespread anti-papal feeling in Renaissance Venice.

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