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After El Greco, Saint Peter

Key facts
Full title Saint Peter
Artist After El Greco
Artist dates 1541 - 1614
Date made perhaps early 17th century
Medium and support Oil on vellum (?)
Dimensions 20.3 × 15.9 cm
Acquisition credit Layard Bequest, 1916
Inventory number NG3131
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Saint Peter
After El Greco

This may look like a portrait of an elderly man but his unusually dramatic expression suggests otherwise. He is Saint Peter, one of Christ’s apostles. We know this because his head is copied from a larger picture by El Greco, The Tears of Saint Peter (Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle), which focuses on the saint’s remorse – and repentance – at having denied his association with Christ.

This was a new subject in El Greco’s time and he made it his own, painting many versions. The original picture shows Saint Peter in a landscape, with Mary Magdalene visible in the background, walking away from Christ’s empty tomb after the Resurrection.

The scene emphasises the saint’s humanity through his sin and remorse. Such images were intended to strengthen support for the Catholic sacrament of Penance, which included confession, the message being that with repentance comes forgiveness.

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