Caravaggio, Crucifixion of Saint Peter

Caravaggio, Crucifixion of Saint Peter

SPEAKER 1: We’re in
Santa Maria del Popolo. SPEAKER 2: In Rome. SPEAKER 1: Looking at one
of the great Caravaggios of the Baroque. SPEAKER 2: This may actually
be my favorite Caravaggio, although I think I said about
the last Caravaggio we did. SPEAKER 1: You may have. This is the “Crucifixion
of St. Peter.” You know, we talk about the
diagonals of the Baroque and the sense of action
in the momentary. But Caravaggio just makes
that seem so pedestrian. It’s such an activated, complex
set of movements and weights. SPEAKER 2: Counter-movements. SPEAKER 1: And yes. And gravity plays
this intense role. SPEAKER 2: Very, very,
very powerful feeling of the pull of gravity. But what gets me is Peter. Caravaggio went out onto
the street and got a guy. SPEAKER 1: He’s a real and
powerful, intense figure. And he looks really crabby,
just the way Peter should be. Now, the story of
course is that Peter– SPEAKER 2: He asked
to be crucified not the way that Christ did. SPEAKER 1: That’s right. So upside-down. SPEAKER 2: So they’re turning
the cross upside-down, right? Look at him. He looks poor and kind of messy. SPEAKER 1: Not idealized at all. SPEAKER 2: No. SPEAKER 1: This is
in such contrast to the pomp and ceremony. SPEAKER 2: He’s a guy
hanging out in a bar in Rome. SPEAKER 1: Well,
that’s what Caravaggio is so well known for. It’s all the pomp
and ceremony of Rome, of the Catholic Church is
here turned on its head by Caravaggio. Think about this in contrast
to the medieval traditions where there’s no sense of
gravity, no sense of weight, no sense of physicality. I mean, we’re really
seeing the ramifications of the Renaissance, but the
brought into the Baroque era with a kind of intense
emotionalism and physicality that even puts the
Renaissance to shame. SPEAKER 2: Yeah. Oh, and shoved in your face. The guy who’s
lifting the cross , he’s got all the way under it
and is hoisting it with his back. We see his butt in our face. We see his legs, his dirty feet. SPEAKER 1: That’s right. And this notion of really
pushing out past the picture plane into our face
is absolutely– SPEAKER 2: Right. Into the space– into our space. SPEAKER 1: And look at
the diagonal of Peter has his feet comes towards us. SPEAKER 2: Yeah. SPEAKER 1: You’re
absolutely right. It breaks out into our world. SPEAKER 2: Right. And in fact, the cross as
it moves out into our space by his feet, gives us a very
close up view of the nails. There’s a kind way that it
gets to you in your body so that you almost
go “ugh, agh.” SPEAKER 1: Yeah. There’s all this
tension, actually. SPEAKER 2: You can feel that. The nail through his hands
is all very, very real and descriptive. And the way that there’s
that black background. SPEAKER 1: Because
light is really emphasizing what
you’re talking about. They way in which
the knees protrude, the way in which the body
is sort of pushed forward. All of that is highly
controlled by the way that the light is played here. SPEAKER 2: And on his
abdomen and his knees, they make his body
look very normal. Like it’s a regular man’s body. So different than
the kinds of bodies we’re used to seeing
in the Renaissance. SPEAKER 1: It’s true, although
there is a kind of heroicism here in terms of its
mass and its strength. But it’s only
expressed through– SPEAKER 2: Belied a little bit
by the face though, I think, which looks so vulnerable. SPEAKER 1: It’s true. There is this kind of incredible
tension, because you’re right. All the forces of
nature play here. And we’re not quite sure if
that rope is strong enough. We’re not quite sure if
those men are strong enough. It may just fall. SPEAKER 2: It may. The whole thing could
collapse at any second. SPEAKER 1: Absolutely. There’s this kind of sense of
transience in the momentary. SPEAKER 2: And sort of
human frailty, you know. SPEAKER 1: That’s right. In a sense,
Caravaggio’s brilliance is to be able to create this
sense of newness and freshness, and as if this hadn’t been
rehearsed hundreds of times in paintings for
hundreds of years. SPEAKER 2: I know, but
no one did it like this. SPEAKER 1: It’s as if
it’s the first time. SPEAKER 2: Yeah.

5 Replies to “Caravaggio, Crucifixion of Saint Peter”

  1. wonderful analysis. This is one of my favorite baroque paintings. If I were to explain to someone what the baroque style is all about, this comes to mind.

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