Paul Rebukes the Repentant Peter

Guido Reni

Guido Reni, Paul Rebukes the Repentant Peter,1609 c.a, oil on canvas, 197 x 140 cm, Milan, © Pinacoteca di Brera

Pietro and Paolo confront each other in the proscenium of the painting, with their hands outstretched in eloquent gestures of discussion, their glances crossing on the diagonal, unleashing palpable emotional intensity. Guido Reni, who since his first stay in Rome had showed an inclination for the expression of emotions, here recounts the “incident at Antioch”, an episode related to Luke’s Gospel and mentioned in the Letter to the Galatians, where Paul harshly reproaches Peter for his hypocrisy towards Jewish law and his betrayal of Christ. The seated, contrite position of the leading apostle seems to set in motion an iconographic contamination that expands the theme to include the “repentance of Peter”, thus making the figurative structure more complex and daring. 

The glimpse of the landscape in the background, with a turreted castle surrounded by trees and a sky in which the leaden, purplish tones immediately above Paolo’s head fade towards clearer, more soothing shades, invites on the occasion of this exhibition a comparison with Reni’s Country Dance, recently reacquired for the Borghese collection, from which however it clearly differs. While in the latter painting the landscape contributes to the vaguely enchanted, festive atmosphere, the horizon behind the two apostles is on the contrary gloomy, almost obscured by the lightning of a storm, and arouses more dramatic feelings, perhaps associated with the scene depicted in the foreground. The evolution from light airiness to a more “heroic” vision supports the theory that the painting dates to a later period, of more evident maturity, than that of the Borghese Dance, with a proposed date of 1609. 

The painting was commissioned during Guido’s stay in Bologna, in 1603-1604, where he went for Agostino Carracci’s funeral and where he remained until his second return to Rome. On that occasion he received the commission from the Sampieri family, perhaps from the abbot Astorre, who came into possession of the work not before 1609, the year when it was probably painted: there are many testimonies on the slowness with which the artist completed his works. 

The painting is exhibited in the room that contains Antonio Canova’s Paolina Borghese, and enjoys a subtle bond with this latter work and its sculptor. The painting, still greatly admired in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, was part of the sale of the Sampieri collection in 1811 and, among the paintings owned by the Sampieri family, had attracted the attention of the great neoclassical artist.


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