Fundación Focus
<em>Velázquez Centre</em>

Velázquez Centre

Focus Foundation

Bartolomé E. Murillo

(Seville, 1617-1682)
Artist biography

 

The Penitent Saint Peter, h. 1675

Oil on canvas

212 x 155 cm.

Fundación Fondo de Cultura de Sevilla

The Penitent Saint Peter

In diffused landscape showing the first light of dawn, we see Saint Peter being punished for having denied Christ, seated at a grotto, one arm leaning on a thick rock, hands clasped and eyes raised to heaven in a gesture of contrition and supplication . The painting is undoubtedly one of the masterpieces of the period of maturity of Murillo and was probably commissioned by the canon of the Cathedral of Seville Justino de Neve, friend and patron of the artist, who in his will (1685) decided to bequeath to the Hospital de los Venerables, which is now headquarters of the Focus Foundation.

Contrary to his wish, the painting was not placed in the infirmary, but in an altar at the base of the church. The original frame and guilded wood can still be seen embedded in an altarpiece showing keys and papal tiara intertwined with both the palms of martyrdom.

The theme of Saint Peter penitent or in tears was widely reported in the Spanish painting of the Golden Age. The environment of the Catholic Counter-Reformation was well suited to convey the idea of repentance, confession and penance to return the fallen soul to state of grace. Murillo had previously conveyed him in another painting in the Museum of Fine Arts in Bilbao. The other painting portrays an intense naturalism a still relatively early stage of its production.

Despite its late date, this work still shows the attachment to these naturalistic modes, proving that the artist never abandoned his youth´s technical resources. This work perfectly compliments the exhibition discourse and the additional works in the Velázquez Centre. Thus, in choosing the composition it reflects the influence of Ribera on Murillo, as it has followed a picture of Valencia dated 1621 probably came to know directly that becomes kinder tone, avoiding dramatic contrasts. With the creative process of this work has also been related a drawing of unquestionable quality preserved in the British Museum in London, showing some variations in the arrangement of the figure of Saint Peter or the inclusion of the rooster, and could have served as an intermediate step between the die and the final version.

In 1810, during the Napoleonic invasion, the painting was plundered and taken to Paris, spending some time in the collection of Marshal Soult. After his death in 1851, it was sold and sent to the UK where it has remained for more than a hundred hidden from public view, only known to the public by a photograph published by Diego Angulo in the seventies of the last century.

Gabriele Finaldi rediscovered the painting in 2011 and placed it in the Murillo and Justino de Neve exhibition, The Art of Friendship, organized by the Museo del Prado, the Focus Foundation and the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Through asset recovery action the painting was acquired in 2014 by Abengoa, and integrated into its foundation´s permanent collection of the Centro Velázquez, near the Church of the Venerable. Prior to this public display the painting was subjected to a technical study and restoration in the Prado Museum, which recovered its original color values and transparencies and give new birth to its versatile brushstrokes: dense and compact in the face and fabrics and fluid and loose on the surface of the landscape that opens in depth. Thus, returning this Sevillian treasure to it´s original intended context.

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