The Martyrdom of Saint Peter

Giovan Francesco Barbieri, detto il Guercino

Cento, 1591 – Bologna, 1666

466

Oil on canvas, 320 x 193cm

Orazio Cabassi commissioned this painting around 1618-19 for the Chiesa di S. Bernardino in Carpi. It entered the ducal collections in 1751. It was looted by the Napoleonic army and  displayed at the Louvre. In 1815 it was returned to the Galleria Estense. 

This is a masterpiece from Guercino’s early work, just a few years before his stay in Rome. Saint Peter is not pictured in the traditional upside-down crucifixion format, but at the start of his passion. In the handling of subject, diagonal composition and vivid use of colour, this painting serves as a testament to the incredibly original mode of expression attained by the young painter. The innate propensity towards naturalism (learnt from Venetian painting, an in particular from the Bassano family artists) is lit with a dramatic use of chiaroscuro which has often led to speculation that Guercino might have been already aware of Caravaggio’s painting.